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Tarek Rafik Abu Taha Image Credit: Supplied

Beirut: A Palestinian-Lebanese engineer cried and felt discriminated against by a Lebanese passport control officer who called him a ‘rogue’ and deplaned him from a repatriation trip flying expatriates to Beirut.

Having been on a job-hunting trip to Dubai since March 6, before the global closure of airports and flights over the Covid-19 outbreak, Tarek Rafik Abu Taha had registered himself with the Lebanese Consulate in Dubai to return on an MEA flight repatriating expatriates on May 3.

Abu Taha, a 31-year-old who holds a Travel Document for Palestinian Refugees, completed all pre-flight procedures at Dubai International Airport and went ahead to board the flight. The Lebanese General Security [authority in charge of passports, visas and residencies], as part of the procedures, has been deploying passport control officers aboard each repatriation flight for security checks.

The torment for Abu Taha started just as he was about to enter the plane and presented his travel documents. According to Abu Taha, an officer, upon noticing that his papers were different, asked him to step aside.

Despite having explained that he was a Palestinian, who was born and raised in Lebanon, Abu Taha said he was made to wait for more than an hour during which, his papers were checked repeatedly.

When a female cabin crew member enquired with the officers as to why Abu Taha was not being allowed to enter the plane, one of them responded, saying: “Those [travel documents] are for rogues”.

“I took my plight to social media and posted what happened on Facebook. I have no intention to escalate this matter or generalise it and be presumptuous or to trigger a controversy. My message is to make myself heard that someone had disrespected and derided me ... that’s unacceptable. He [the officer on the plane] didn’t consider that I might not be permitted to re-enter Dubai after being forced to disembark,” Abu Taha told Gulf News.

Intolerable treatment

After waiting at the plane’s stairs for more than an hour, before being told that he “wouldn’t [be allowed to] board” and treated in what he described as in an “intolerable” way, Abu Taha, a father of a three-year-old son, phoned his parents and told them about the incident.

After he shared his ordeal on social media, the incident went viral and started trending in less than a day. His ordeal generated a controversy and triggered spiteful comments among users of social media, who criticised and rejected such “inappropriate behaviour” by the officials.

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Abu Taha's travel document Image Credit: Supplied

A senior official from Lebanese General Security told Gulf News that the authority treats everybody respectfully and humanely. “We reject any inappropriate or disrespectful attitude. The officer concerned is being questioned and based on the results of the investigation, required action will be taken. However, we must clarify that the Lebanese Cabinet decided to repatriate Lebanese citizens exclusively at this phase.”

Following the incident, the authority clarified that as per the government’s decision, non-Lebanese would be repatriated at a later phase as only Lebanese citizens were being flown back for the time being.

“I understand and respect the Lebanese authorities’ decision and had no intent to politicise this issue whatsoever. I have always been an upright resident and never intervened in politics. My message was to make myself heard — that I could have been treated respectful... Had the matter been explained more appropriately then nothing of this would’ve happened,” Abu Taha explained to Gulf News.

He thanked the UAE authorities for allowing him to re-enter Dubai and expressed his appreciation for the Lebanese community in the UAE and those who assisted him.

Abu Taha also thanked a person in his company, who had hired him temporarily in Dubai.

As mentioned on the travel documents of Palestinian refugees, Lebanese authorities are requested to allow bearers of such documents to pass freely and to afford him or her aid and protection whenever necessary.
Bassam Za’Za is a freelance writer based in Beirut.