A Dreadful Moment in a Traveller’s Journey [Archives:1998/14/Viewpoint]

April 6 1998

I am quite a traveller, having visited more than 130 countries. I enjoy travelling, which has enabled me to establish extensive contacts and relations, worldwide. Over the years, I have learned to adjust to the changes in time zones, in cuisines, and above all, changes in lifestyles and values. I have also picked up a few sentences in a dozen or so languages.
But there is something I am still unable to adjust to – going through immigration. I get a strange feeling – a sense of anger, helplessness, worry, and a certain degree of resentment – as I hand over my passport to be inspected.
The starting point is a passport that reads from the ‘wrong’ direction. The immigration officer would often start from the left. When he/she finds blank pages, he/she would work his/her fingers through the pages.
The officer would leaf through the many stamped pages in the passport. That is a re-assuring sign, as it means I have been able to pop in and out of countries without having been stopped.
Then comes the country, Yemen, which often triggers nothing. That is actually good news. Imagine what happens to holders of passports from Libya, Iran, Iraq, etc. But somehow, even with a ‘good’ passport, things have to be checked.
“So what brings you here?”
“I am going to participate in a conference,” is my usual answer.
The conversation continues, as his/her fingers move away from the passport to the computer – to look me up.
“How many days will you be staying with us?”
“It is a 3-day visit. But I could stay up to 5 days or even a week.”There is a ‘Welcome’ grin as I get back my stamped passport.
I have yet to be taken away, and this is what I sometimes anticipate, given the profession listed in my passport – journalist. In many quarters, that is not a popular business.
In some airports, the busy nature of the traffic flow leads to long lines in front of immigration counters. Some passports take seconds to process. Mine takes a bit longer. I sometimes get overcome by a sense of guilt for the people I hold up behind me. I myself, have learned a few tricks as to which lines to choose to stand in. I look at, not only the number of people on the various lines, but also to the nationalities of the people. I avoid lines which have people who, I judge, are ‘would-be’ immigrants, or trouble cases. Of course, you can never really tell, but my travels have given a decidedly correct instinct.
Population flows is a rising phenomenon of our world. With it we have seen the rise of the efforts to control them.
For all its preaching about the right for freedom of movement, the West is basically interested in movement of goods and money. People it does not want.
Welcome to the New World Order!
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher