Don’t Let It Be You – A Story on Immigrants Stranded at Airports

Posted on August 27, 2009 in Society


Hari left his country with hopes in his eyes and a smile on his face that reflected the joy of his family. He was off to a foreign land that promises him greener pastures… Good days are coming for him and his family. He can finally get his house repaired decently and pay debts.

He is going abroad.

Hari is a brick mason who is leaving for a country where he will be paid ten times or more than what he is paid in his homeland.

“Has my visa come?” asks a short man with white stubble. Everyone going abroad is usually dressed nicely, but his slightly shabby appearance made me wonder if he was stranded at the airport.

I check his visa status and tell him it hasn’t come yet and then another glance at the screen tells me that there is some problem with his visa. I ask that man if he knows what’s wrong with his visa.

“My name was spelled wrongly in it initially so the people at the immigration asked me to contact my sponsor. It had to be changed”

“For how long have you been here?” I ask him. Visa change can take a day and God help him if there was a two day weekend in between.

“Three days, madam”, Hari replies, confirming my thoughts.

Hari had expected to be picked up from the airport by the company reps and had gone empty handed to a foreign land. He hadn’t dreamt that anything would go wrong at the airport where he would end up stranded for four days…. With no money to call his family back home or even to buy food to sustain himself with the expensive meals available in the food court.

I see him again on my next shift and this time he comes to me and asks if his visa has been submitted. He looks at me like I remember all his passport details — given the amount of time he turned up at my counter, I should. But then Hari is not the only person stranded at the airport. I’ve met many more. Some stranded for weeks…

Hari finally sees the light outside after I and my colleagues bend some rules and call his sponsor and enquire the status of his visa. When I leave he is still waiting for his sponsor to come. When I return for my next shift, there is no sign of him — he finally went to his new home. He survived the four days at the airport drinking only tea.

But he is not alone. There are many Haris who come from their home country with nothing but dreams in their eyes and penniless. I ask most of these people one question as I wonder aloud “Why do you travel without money to a land you’ve only heard of?” May be in their wildest dreams they didn’t think of such a situation… well may be no one would.

As I look troubled over the many Haris I’ve met, my colleague informs me that she has seen many cases in which women, some with children have been stranded at the airport for a month or two. Some were conned huge sums of money by promising good salaries and given fake visas. On arrival they were horrified to learn the truth and with no money to buy ticket back home, they had no choice but to live at the airport terminal itself. It is not easy. The cooling sometimes is bitterly cold and I am relived when I step outside… how do they live there 24×7 for months? Or even a few days without many clothes to change.

My colleague gushes that she and some other kindred souls help them as and when they can with food or other amenities. But as with stringent airport policies, it is not a very safe generosity.

There are many reasons for people to get stranded at the airports. Here are few things you can do to minimize your chances of being another stranded immigrant:

ü Check your visa and other documents and see if all the details mentioned are correct. This includes your name, date of birth etc. Even a small little mistake which may seem silly to you may land you in extreme trouble with the authorities.

ü Always carry money with you when traveling abroad. This includes carrying some cash. Officials must make this mandatory.

ü If on tourist visa, find out the regulations of the country you are traveling to. Many a times, immigrants stranded at the airport are the ones who come on tourist visa but do not fulfill the requirements that are a must to enter the country.

ü If possible, see that you have a working sim card even if it charges a lot for roaming. You never know when you may need it.

ü Always have important phone numbers at hand.

ü Try to carry important necessities in hand luggage. If you end up stranded even for a few hours, at least you can minimize the discomfort.

ü Keep a handbook of the local language of the place you are traveling to. Chances are if it’s a completely foreign land — they don’t speak your language as you don’t speak theirs, especially at the airport.

The rules have now changed here. A person who is stranded at the airport for 5 days is sent back to his country by law. I feel sorry for the people who spent months here until they were rescued. The tears they shed and bitter cold, hunger, the incomparable sadness, loneliness and distress all these immigrants feel can’t even be measured properly in words.