Monday, July 03, 2017

Bandra woman in 32-hour nightmare at Georgia airport

Mumbai: A solo trip turned into a disastrous experience for Kalanagar resident Khushbu Kaushal, 32, who had left for a 15-day solo trip to the Eurasian country of Georgia on June 29. She is back home but with a horror story. The immigration department at Tbilisi airport didn't allow the advertising professional a pass into the country, and offered no explanation about what was wrong with her papers, if at all.
"I went without sleep, food or water for 32 hours," she said, adding that the authorities there sent her back to Mumbai, where she landed on Saturday morning, but not before Air Arabia misplaced her luggage.
Kaushal, who had to cancel all her pre-booked tickets and hotel reservations, said she sent a number of tweets to the Ministry of External Affairs but failed to get a response, while India's Ambassador to the UAE "washed his hands off the whole thing".
Kaushal said she had chosen Georgia for its quick facility of e-visa. "I landed in Tbilisi on June 29, 6.30 pm their time. They checked my documents -- bank statements, passport, visa, booking details and a letter from my office. They asked me a few questions, we also shared a laugh over something… things were fine. My documents were all in order, so they let me go. But shortly after, an officer approached me and asked me to wait at an unmarked counter, and it was all downhill from there," she said.
She was made to wait at the airport, which didn't have proper facilities of drinking water and food. There was also no Wi-Fi there; so, she took mobile data from another stranded passenger, and sent a series of tweets to Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.
"I kept requesting the immigration officers to at least provide us with some food and water. But they were extremely rude and just shooed me off. We were allowed to buy something to eat and drink after seven hours. I can't remember when I have been this dehydrated," she recollected.
In the wee hours of June 30, she was flown to Sharjah, as the city operates flights to Mumbai. Authorities at Tbilisi airport allegedly handed over her passport and other documents directly to the airline, saying she would get them back only after landing in India. At no point in time did things sort out, as after landing in Sharjah, there was more waiting in store for her.
Hungry, tired and sleep-deprived, Kaushal had to shell out 30 dirhams for some shuteye in the business lounge at Sharjah airport, where she landed around 10 am. After a four-hour wait, when she reached the transit desk, she was asked to wait till 3 pm. This went on till 9 pm, with Kaushal none the wiser, as authorities refused to tell her anything — why her immigration clearance didn't go through and when she would be allowed to leave.
"When I spoke to an official at the transit desk at Sharjah airport, I was told that they have sought permission from Mumbai for my return. I was shocked to hear that. I am a resident of India, why on earth do they need permission for that? Then, when I spoke to them again after waiting for hours, they said they were waiting for permission from Tbilisi to allow me back to Georgia. I was furious," she added.
Finally, she boarded her Air Arabia flight to Mumbai at 11.45 pm and landed here early on Saturday.
03/07/17 Rupsa Chakraborty/Mid Day