(144): Doha Debacle: My tedious transit at Hamad International Airport
Doha Debacle: My tedious transit at Hamad International Airport
I was filled to the brim with boredom and regrets about my choice to transit at Qatar’s Hamad International Airport when a smiley, albeit timid-looking guy threw a question at me, “Are you Muslim?” I answered in the affirmative. He saw the name on my boarding pass that I put beside me while calculating how to spend 24 hours at an airport. I knew no pastime could take away my angst and anguish during this period. Still, I was determined to survive it.
“My name is Fahad Muhammad, and I am from Pakistan”, he added. In sum, despite his faltering, heavily accented English, he helped me kill more than an hour. He was glad, even fulfilled, that he spoke with a Muslim [South!] African, meaning an African. Thanks to cricket, many average Pakistanis and Indians see all blacks as South Africans! But, unknown to him, I was happier, for I was going through something akin to depression.
I began foreign trips in 2013. I always recall, with much admiration, that trip along with my newlywed wife. However, the exciting part of the journey was not our final destination, which was Punjab, India, but what transpired in-between, which was in Cairo, Egypt. During our nearly 24-hour-long transit, Egypt Air took us to a 5-star hotel. There we had our honeymoon.
Since that honeymoon, I have always associated long transits with happiness. Luckily, in the course of my several other trips around the world, I have had similarly memorable transits in, among other places, Addis Ababa, Cairo (again), Vienna and London. Different airlines are generous in taking their passengers to luxurious hotels for convenience. In other instances, passengers are allowed entry into cities, meet family and friends and do other things they desire. Unfortunately, Qatar Airways and Doha did the contrary to me on 01.09.2022.
|I was smiling only for the photo!|
I booked a Qatar Airways flight with a lot of enthusiasm, thanks to what a couple of friends told me about them. Another reason was a dear-elder friend who works in the modern city of Doha. So we arranged to meet and tour the city, including a visit to my favourite news channel, Al Jazeera. While Doha was not the final destination, the transit duration was long enough for us to do this and more.
To my amazement, the Qatar Airways customers told me that they no longer take passengers on transit to the hotel due to covid-19 restrictions. Honestly, I found that shocking. I know countries have their specific Covid-19 rules, but none, perhaps except China, is that strict about denying someone what’s their right by the law. Moreover, even our bureaucratic Germany, where I am a resident, has relaxed the rules. Don’t mention the UK. During my last visit weeks ago, one would say there was never Covid-19 as life was back to the ‘old normal’.
Unfortunately, after landing in Doha, another customer care told me the same astonishing update. However, she suggested that I could book a hotel within the airport. I joked that if I used my money, they would have magic to protect me and others from Covid-19. She smiled, apparently defeated, but she could not do anything else. Instead, she told me I could use my boarding pass to get a free meal. I did and then went to check on the airport hotels. To my surprise, the least cost is $306 per night/day! Another option is the so-called Sleep ‘n Fly, which costs an unbelievable $30 per hour! So, what’s left for me?
I spoke with my Doha-based friend, who told me he would come to pick me up. So, I went to immigration. Before I reached them, a security guide directed me to see some medical personnel to check my PCR test, which I didn’t have. Another option was my CovPass (i.e. EU vaccination certificate). I confidently presented it as I had had three doses, including the booster. Satisfied, they gave me the green light to go to the immigration counter.
I was impressed to see young ladies checking passengers travelling documents. The guys with uniforms were standing around, away from the ladies’ booths. The immigration officials were the first Arab airport staff members I had seen since my arrival hours earlier. The rest were mostly, if not exclusively, Asians and Africans. Regrettably, my good impression was short-lived because the lady turned me back while smiling coldly.
Upon seeing my Nigerian green passport, she didn’t waste time asking me questions. Instead, she called a guy in uniform who spoke to her in rapid Arabic. He collected my passport, boarding pass and German residence permit and showed me the exit. I was bewildered. So, I asked what was going on. He said that guy, one of the Asian underlings, would explain it to me.
The Asian security guy asked me to return to the arrivals and look for my next flight. As a Nigerian passport holder, he told me I was not eligible for a visa on arrival. I felt furious, but I calmed myself. I said to him that regardless, I deserved some dignity. I requested him to call the attention of his Arab ‘master’, which he did grudgingly. I told the ostensibly arrogant Arab officer the same. He ordered me to shut up, putting his index finger on his lips. That riled me, and before you knew it, many people in the hall could hear my livid voice.
Of course, it’s their country, but the rules per their website say EU nationals and residents shall be “honoured and accepted” when visiting or transiting in Qatar. But, I didn’t deserve the honour and acceptance just because I carried a Nigerian passport. If this is not humiliation, I don’t know what it is. They threatened me (with arrest?) and asked me to stay. I did. Then, an armed, dark-skinned officer came. He asked me what had happened. He looked at me and my documents as I explained the situation. He visibly agreed with me, yet, he repeated the same thing. I shook my head, collected my docs and left.
|See what the law says!|
I let it be for peace. It’s regrettable that Qatar, a country hosting FIFA World Cup, is unfair to people carrying a Nigerian passport. Unfortunate as this is, a deep reflection tells me to worry no more. Several human rights groups have accused them of human rights violations amounting to modern slavery. Although I have not seen the violations physically, how foreigners dominate Hamad International Airport says a lot. One of them confided in me that they were not allowed to bring their family. Another told me that he works for 16 hours daily!
Qatar is one of the countries with the most challenging citizenship system. Moreover, hundreds of construction workers have reportedly died at the world cup stadiums and so on. So, I may count myself lucky they didn’t lock me up. But, leaving me at the airport for 24 hours is perhaps a worse punishment. I swear I had never seen a longer, dull day like this one. It’s boring and killing. They have lost customers in my family and me. I also think this piece will influence a few more potential customers to have second thoughts when planning to book this flight or visit Qatar. Insignificant as this may look, I believe it matters. Allah ya isa!
Muhsin Ibrahim, PhD, teaches Hausa Studies at the Institute of African Studies, University of Cologne. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.