Dubai: What was supposed to be a happy family vacation this summer in Georgia turned into a horrible experience for a UAE-based Pakistani doctor and her family.
Dr Farhana Naz Amir, 44, a long-time radiologist at a hospital in Umm Al Quwain, and her family went for a one-week trip to Georgia on July 3. It was a good holiday package for four, she said — priced at Dh6,300, inclusive of return tickets, hotel stay, transport between airport and hotel, and a city tour.
Georgia — a country at the intersection of Europe and Asia, where vaccinated travellers from all countries can enter without any restrictions — was the best choice for Dr Farhana, her husband Amir Iqbal Tabani, 53, and their children aged 15 and 10.
“As a family, we’ve been to many countries, including United States, Turkey, Oman, Saudi and Qatar,” Dr Farhana told Gulf News, adding: “It has been a family tradition to go on a trip during summer and we mostly go back home to Pakistan. But because of the pandemic situation, we looked for a nearby country perfect for a family holiday.
“To get ready, my kids watched different videos and checked travel blogs on various tourist spots in Georgia. We were really very excited — I could finally take a break from exhausting hospital duty and the kids would spend time outdoors after a year doing online classes,” she added.
Dr Farhana and family followed all safety travel protocols. They took COVID-19 PCR tests and submitted valid negative results. Hotel booking was done by the travel agency and the itinerary was all set. They arrived at the airport on time — the flight was at 1pm.
The three-and-a-half-hour flight to Georgia via Air Arabia was smooth, but the trouble began as soon as they reached the immigration counter at Tbilisi International Airport.
Dr Farhana narrated: “When my husband handed over his passport and the immigration official saw it was green (colour of Pakistani passport) — even without opening it — the official told my husband to go to a separate room.
“I thought it was just a normal procedure and they took all our passports. There were other people in the room — of various nationalities. After some time, immigration officials handed back the passports of other passengers and they were allowed to proceed but not us. We waited for almost two hours and we were the only ones left in the holding area,” she added.
“We had no choice but to take the return flight. My kids were shocked, but the biggest trauma was psychological when we felt we were treated like ‘suspected terrorists’. We did not go anywhere, yet, before boarding the return flight, our carry-on bags were thoroughly checked.
Not allowed to enter
Dr Farhana continued: “Then an officer came to us and said my husband was denied entry. Before that, my husband was asked for the purpose of our trip. He replied: ‘Leisure; family vacation’. ‘Do you have confirmed hotel booking?’ My husband said, ‘Yes’. ‘How much cash are you carrying?’ My husband said $2,000 (Dh7,300) plus we have credit cards.”
Dr Farhana, a medical frontliner with a well-paying job, told the officer that they had the financial capacity to spend for a holiday in Georgia. They had been living in the UAE for the past 11 years. She is a doctor and her husband also studied medicine, but diverged to stock trading. “After more than seven hours, including travel and the time we waited at the immigration, we were finally told that only the kids and myself were allowed to enter Georgia, but not my husband,” Dr Farhana noted.
‘Denied with no reason’
Dr Farhana recounted: “Even when I asked repeatedly, the immigration official did not give a reason why my husband was denied entry. The officer said we can either enter Georgia without my husband or we all will have to return to the UAE.”
Dr Farhana added: “I could not think of any reason either why my husband was denied entry. He is bearded, but there were other bearded persons around who were allowed entry into Georgia. He was wearing casual trouser and shirt; I was wearing an abaya and the usual scarf. We blended well with the other tourists. But out of the 300 passengers — there were Indians, Filipinos, Arabs and other nationalities — who came from the UAE, my husband was the only one denied entry with no explanation given,” she added.
Dr Farhana continued: “We had no choice but to take the return flight. My kids were shocked, but the biggest trauma was psychological when we felt we were treated like ‘suspected terrorists’. We did not go anywhere, yet, before boarding the return flight, our carry-on bags were thoroughly checked. The immigration police wrote something in a paper but they did not hand over to us our passports and we were escorted to the departure area. We were on the same plane that had brought us to Tbilisi and the crew were surprised to see us on the return flight,” she added.
“The flight back home was terrifying — flight and hotel bookings, PCR tests, money, and most importantly precious time were all wasted. We felt we were disrespected,” Dr Farhana underlined.
Exhausted, lost and confused, Dr Farhana and family arrived at Sharjah International Airport before 11pm and reached home past midnight. To comfort the children and to forget their ordeal, Dr Farhana and her husband decided to check in to a hotel in Hatta, Dubai, and decided to share their story to raise awareness so that nothing of that sort should ever happen again with anyone. “I shared our story so that this kind of discrimination does not happen again with anyone,” she emphasised.
Holiday-makers turned back from Georgia
But this was not the first time Pakistani holiday-makers were turned back from Georgia. Gulf News had earlier reported about “humiliating ordeals” after individuals and families were denied entry to Georgia “without reason”. There were several such cases reported in the past.
On June 19, 2018, 35-year-old Pakistani Abdul Haseeb Khan, who was travelling with an Indian colleague, was deported from Tbilisi International Airport along with several others. He said: “I convinced my friend to go to Georgia because of its visa-on-arrival facility for UAE residents, but we were denied entry when we landed in Tbilisi.”
Malou Prado, managing director and owner of MPQ Tourism in Satwa, told Gulf News: “We have been promoting Georgia as a great tourist destination and we praise them for welcoming all vaccinated people, especially now that there are only a few countries open for international tourism.
“But these incidents of denying entry to certain nationalities is really worrying. As a traveller, not only as a travel agent, I think Georgia Tourism should provide clear guidelines on entry restrictions for their country. It is not good to discriminate against certain nationalities,” she added.
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Georgian embassy explanation
In a previous Gulf News story, an official at the Georgian Embassy in Kuwait had said “persons travelling to Georgia may or may not be allowed entry, as per the Ministry of Internal Affairs. But an explanation is provided to those denied entry”.
According to Georgia’s eVisa portal www.evisa.gov.ge, all UAE citizens and residents qualify for the visa-on-arrival facility. UAE residents can stay up to 90 days in Georgia so long as their UAE residence visas are valid and the validity extends until the traveller’s return to the UAE.