Abdul Haseeb Khan and Tanya D’Souza Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Two Dubai-based expatriates, who were recently denied visa-on-arrival in Georgia, claim that they were deported “unfairly” and “mistreated” by Georgia’s immigration officers.

They have urged travellers to ensure that they have their visas in order before flying to the tourist hotspot, a former Soviet republic that’s home to Caucasus mountain villages and Black Sea beaches.

According to Georgia’s eVisa portal www.evisa.gov.ge, all UAE citizens and residents qualify for the visa-on-arrival facility, but several cases of UAE residents being deported have recently come to light.

 I showed them [Georgian officials] my return ticket and travel insurance to prove that I was just a tourist, but they mocked me and sniggered.”

 - Tanya D’Souza | Indian expat

On June 19, 35-year-old Pakistani Abdul Haseeb Khan, who was travelling with an Indian colleague, was deported from Tbilisi International Airport along with several others.

“I had been thinking of a European holiday for some time and my friend and I zeroed in on Georgia, Armenia and Baku. I convinced my friend to pick Georgia because of its visa-on-arrival facility for UAE residents, but we were denied entry when we landed in Tbilisi,” said Khan, who has been living in the UAE for more than a decade.

 It was so frustrating. We had paid for everything and all our documents were valid. There was no reason for them to deny me entry.”

 - Abdul Haseeb Khan | Pakistani expat

According to Khan, his Indian friend was allowed to enter. However, since the two of them were travelling together, she couldn’t continue alone. “It was so frustrating for both of us. We had made all the plans, paid for everything and all our documents were valid. There was no reason for them to deny me entry,” Khan said.

He lays part of the blame on the travel operator, Holidayme, which Khan alleges concealed information of previous cases of deportation of Pakistani expats from Tbilisi airport.

Similarly, young Indian expat Tanya D’Souza shared details of what she described as a “harrowing experience” at Batumi airport in Georgia on August 13, where she was allegedly mocked and deported.

“Georgia promoted itself as being a tourist-friendly destination with a lot of holiday deals and fancy hotel bookings online. I thought this would be a good break and booked my return ticket and hotel stay,” said D’Souza, a pre-school teacher raised in Dubai.

When D’Souza arrived, she was asked to step aside and interrogated by officers about how much money she had brought with her (she was carrying $400), her hotel booking and her return ticket.

“I showed them my return ticket and travel insurance to prove to them that I had to go back to work and I was just here as a tourist, but they mocked me and sniggered amongst themselves,” she said.

“A young Omani, also living in the UAE, was also treated the same way. We were both asked to go back because they said we didn’t have enough funds for the trip.”

D’Souza claims that a couple after her who declared $600 in cash was let through. “The Omani and I were treated like convicts. I was helpless and in tears,” she said.

When D’Souza landed in Dubai, she said UAE immigration officers told her of many other unfair incidences of UAE residents being put back on a flight from Georgia.

“The deportation form stated that ‘the person does not provide the information or provides false one about his/her identity and purpose of travel’. This is completely untrue!” D’Souza said.

Another Pakistani expatriate who also booked his holiday through Holidayme claimed that the travel operator misled him into believing that all Pakistanis are eligible for visa-on-arrival in Georgia.

Another traveller said: “I wouldn’t have taken the risk if they had even dropped some hint. This misinformation caused us to face a lot of embarrassment. We were treated like criminals at Tbilisi airport.”

Six other Pakistanis based in the UAE were deported along with him. They claim to have been interrogated and were not handed their passports till they arrived in Dubai.

The Georgian Embassy in Kuwait, which has jurisdiction over all Gulf Cooperation Council countries, was not immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Holidayme said the company doesn’t take any responsibility for the issuance of visa.

“The visa approval/issuances is always at discretion of immigration offices even if it is provided on arrival. Georgia’s official visa portal does not state any limitations on Pakistani nationals with a valid UAE residence visa,” said Mayank Ahuja, assistant vice-president at Holidayme.

He added that his company clearly states in all its packages that the visa advice given is to support customers in the visa application process.

“Holidayme never plays a role in obtaining the visa. Unless clearly stated by the government or immigration office, we cannot deem any nationalities as being restricted entry into Georgia or any other country. We simply do not have that authority. If we did so, we would be misleading customers,” Ahuja said.