Dr. Farhana Naz Amir with her family.
Photo credit: Delivered

Dubai: What turned out to be a happy family vacation in Georgia this summer turned into a terrible experience for a Pakistani doctor from the United Arab Emirates and her family.

Dr. Farhana Naz Amir, 44, a longtime radiologist at a Umm Al Quwain hospital, and her family took a week-long trip to Georgia on July 3. It was a good vacation package for four, she said – for Dh6,300, including round-trip tickets, hotel accommodation, airport-hotel transportation and a city tour.

Georgia – a country at the interface between Europe and Asia, to which vaccinated travelers from all countries can travel without restrictions – was the best choice for Dr. Farhana, her husband Amir Iqbal Tabani, 53, and their children aged 15 and 10.

Family outing

“As a family we have traveled to many countries including the USA, Turkey, Oman, Saudi and Qatar,” said Dr. Farhana told Gulf News, adding, “It’s a family tradition to travel in the summer and we mostly go back to Pakistan. But because of the pandemic situation, we were looking for a nearby country that is perfect for a family vacation.

“In preparation, my children watched various videos and checked travel blogs on various tourist attractions in Georgia. We were really excited – I was finally able to take a break from the busy hospital service and the kids would be spending time outdoors after a year of online classes, ”she added.

Dr. Farhana and his family followed all safety travel protocols. They performed COVID-19 PCR tests and submitted valid negative results. The hotel booking was made by the travel agent and the itinerary was set. They arrived at the airport on time – the flight left at 1 p.m.

The ordeal begins

The three and a half hour flight to Georgia via Air Arabia went smoothly, but the trouble started as soon as they reached the immigration desk at Tbilisi International Airport.

Dr. Farhana said, “When my husband presented his passport and the immigration officer saw that it was green (the color of the Pakistani passport) without opening it, the officer told my husband to go to a separate room.

“I thought it was just a normal process and they all took our passports. There were other people in the room – of different nationalities. After a while, the immigration officers returned other passengers’ passports and allowed them to continue, but not us. We waited almost two hours and were the only ones left in the waiting area, ”she added.

“We had no choice but to take the return flight. My children were shocked, but the biggest trauma was psychological when we felt we were being treated like “suspected terrorists”. We didn’t go anywhere, but our hand luggage was thoroughly checked before boarding the return flight.

– Dr. Farhana Naz Amir, radiologist with a hospital in Um Al Quwain

Not allowed to enter

Dr. Farhana continued, “Then an officer came to us and said that my husband had been refused entry. Before that, my husband was asked about the purpose of our trip. He replied, “Free time; Family holiday’. ‘Do you have a confirmed hotel booking?’ My husband said ‘yes’. ‘How much cash do you carry?’ My husband said $ 2,000 (Dh 7,300) and we have credit cards. “

Dr. Farhana, a medical front-liner with a well-paying job, told the officer that they had the financial means to take a vacation in Georgia. You had lived in the United Arab Emirates for 11 years. She is a doctor and her husband also studied medicine, but switched to stock trading. “After more than seven hours, including the drive and the immigration wait, we were finally told that only the kids and I were allowed into Georgia, my husband not,” noted Dr. Farhana.

“Rejected for no reason”

Dr. Farhana said, “Even when I asked repeatedly, the immigration officer gave no reason why my husband was refused entry. The official said we can either enter Georgia without my husband or we must all return to the United Arab Emirates. “

Dr. Farhana added, “I couldn’t think of any reason why my husband was refused entry. He is bearded, but there were other bearded people who were allowed to enter Georgia. He wore casual pants and a shirt; I wore an abaya and the usual scarf. We mixed well with the other tourists. But of the 300 passengers – Indians, Filipinos, Arabs and other nationalities – who came from the United Arab Emirates, my husband was refused entry for no reason, ”she added.

Psychological trauma

Dr. Farhana continued, “We had no choice but to take the return flight. My children were shocked, but the biggest trauma was psychological when we felt we were being treated like “suspected terrorists”. We didn’t go anywhere, but our hand luggage was thoroughly checked before boarding the return flight. The immigration police wrote something on a piece of paper, but they didn’t give us our passports and we were escorted to the departure area. We were on the same plane that brought us to Tbilisi and the crew was surprised to see us on the return flight, ”she added.

“The flight home was terrifying – flight and hotel bookings, PCR tests, money and, above all, valuable time were wasted. We didn’t feel respected, ”emphasized Dr. Farhana.

Exhausted, lost and confused, Dr. Farhana and his family arrived at Sharjah International Airport before 11 p.m. and arrived home after midnight. To comfort the children and forget their ordeal, Dr. Farhana and her husband, check into a hotel in Hatta, Dubai and share their story in order to raise awareness so that nothing like this should ever happen to anyone again. “I shared our story so that this kind of discrimination wouldn’t happen again to anyone,” she said.

Vacationers returned from Georgia

However, this was not the first time Pakistani vacationers were turned away from Georgia. Gulf News had previously reported “humiliating torture” after individuals and families were denied entry to Georgia “for no reason”. Several such cases have been reported in the past.

On June 19, 2018, 35-year-old Pakistani Abdul Haseeb Khan, who was traveling 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 there are Visa-on-Arrival options for UAE residents, but we were refused entry when we landed in Tbilisi.”

Malou Prado, managing director and owner of MPQ Tourism in Satwa, told Gulf News: “We have promoted Georgia as a great tourist destination and we praise it for welcoming all vaccinated people, especially now that few countries are open to international traffic are tourism.

“But these incidents of refusing entry to certain nationalities are really worrying. As a traveler, not just 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.

Statement by the Georgian Embassy

In an earlier Gulf News story, an official from the Georgian Embassy in Kuwait had said: “People traveling to Georgia may or may not be allowed to enter Georgia, according to the Interior Ministry. But an explanation is given 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 in Georgia for up to 90 days as long as their UAE resident visa is valid and the validity is extended until the traveler returns to the UAE.