Category Archives: Passports

The Travails of Traveling Abroad on a Sri Lankan Passport


.

 Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

.

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ― Blaise PascalPensées

 .

On April 28, 2014, I wrote an article titled “Is a Passport Necessary for the Queen of England, US President, and the Pope to Travel Abroad?”  After reading it, my friend Joe Croos, a constant reader of my posts, now living in Germantown, Maryland, USA, forwarded me the following hilarious piece of writing sent to him by his friend Tony Rajanayagam.

Neither Tony nor Joe knows who the original author of this article is. Obviously he must be a Sri Lankan.

I enjoyed reading every word of this sarcastic, thought-provoking dissertation, and wish to share it with you.

I have used my editorial discretion, to strike out two phrases in the first paragraph which, though hilarious might seem objectionable to a few. Also, I have added images to spruce up the presentation.

Sri Lanka Passport (Source:  elankanews.com)
Sri Lankan Passport (Source: elankanews.com)

There are three things in the world that are of no use to anyone, viz. a man’s breast, a priest’s balls,, and a Sri Lankan passport. The uselessness of the third item becomes absolutely clear when one tries to apply for a visa to go abroad.

Today, international travel for a bona fide traveler from Sri Lanka is fraught with unbelievable red-tape, undesirable paperwork and unforeseeable pitfalls. It is, for example, much easier for the proverbial camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an honest Sri Lankan passport holder to enter the United Kingdom. Everything in life has a price.

Ironically, these days, it is relatively easy for a Sri Lankan illegal immigrant to enter any western country of his choice and claim asylum, become a citizen and sponsor his kith and kin. This way, entire villages from Jaffna peninsula have been uprooted and are now relocated to Scarborough in Toronto, Canada.

A Sri Lankan passport is not unique. Israeli passport is the next most useless document as it is not recognized by 23 countries in the Middle East and also by North Korea and Cuba. Presenting an Israeli passport to an immigration officer in a Muslim country would be the equivalent of waving a red flag at a bull in Spain.

Although the Sri Lankan passport clearly states that “The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka requests and requires all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary” the document is more often than not treated with total disdain while its possessor is regarded with suspicion by almost all countries including Bangladesh, Benin and Bulgaria.

Although the purpose of the Sri Lankan passport is to promote and facilitate international travel, the way in which its owners are treated at foreign embassies makes one wonder if it was instead designed to dissuade and restrict international travel as much as possible.

Applying for a visa to a western country in Sri Lanka has become such a complex, confusing and complicated activity that some people, especially old men and women, come down with the condition known as “visaitis“. This is a relatively new disease which emerged in Sri Lanka at the end of July 1983.

The symptoms include a certain dryness of the mouth, dizziness, and mild dementia. Patients afflicted with this disease also suffer from outrageously watery diarrhea and are in the habit of passing urine frequently, and in rare cases, may be subject to catatonic schizophrenia. They can be nervous, irritable and immune to therapy. The mere thought of going to a western Embassy or High Commission in Sri Lanka is so traumatic that one or two people have in fact died of a broken heart, following the mandatory medical check-up.

There is a particular Hindu place of worship known affectionately as the “Visa Pillayar Temple” (VPT) in Colombo where people go to break a coconut and offer a silent prayer to ensure success prior to their interview (or interrogation) for a visa at the Embassy. Visa aspirants from places as far away as Valluvettithurai (VVT) in the north come to VPT to collect the vipoothi (holy ash), which when applied on the forehead is supposed to confer divine protection during the inquisition at the Embassy.

The insults start at the gate of an Embassy where you experience the taste of what is in store for you in the country you plan to spend your hard-earned money.

French Tricolor Flag - 1803

At the French Embassy in Colombo, rated 9.5 in the “Richter Scale of Rude Shocks,” it is the illiterate gatekeeper who functions as Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades, to whom one must give the sop to slip into the Embassy.

Japanese Flag

At the Japanese Embassy in Colombo, you cannot see the visa officer through the one-way opaque glass window when you submit your application. He can see you, but you cannot see him. The experience can be quite unnerving. It is a bit like speaking to an Oracle in Greece.

Canadian flag

The application for a Canadian tourist visa is 10 pages long and has more than 60 questions, including the names, places and dates of birth of yourself, your wife, your siblings, parents, grandparents, your wife’s relatives, your in-laws and outlaws! All these details have to be submitted first electronically before you are given a date for the interview.

Bangladesh flag

Once I went to the Bangladesh Embassy in Colombo to apply for a visa. The Embassy looked more like a tuck shop and I was the only applicant. Even then that bored consular officer rudely told me that it would take five working days to issue a visa!

Indian Tri-Colour flag

In the Indian Embassy, one would witness the death of common sense. However, much you gather the required documents you need to substantiate your application for a visa, the officer will ask for the one that you forgot to bring.

US flag

By contrast, the US Embassy in Colombo offers one of the best services in the world. The US staff are extremely kind, helpful and patient and they genuinely try to assist the potential visa applicant to the best of their ability. The US evaluation process is very fair, thorough and proper. If you are a genuine visitor to the USA, you need not worry. You will get a fair hearing. All the US immigration officers are trained well to be civil and polite to the visitor. They would often engage you in small talk just to find out if you were a genuine visitor or not to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Today, many embassies have subcontracted the TT Services to deal with the initial stages of processing the visa.

New Zealand flag

More recently, on arrival in Christchurch, New Zealand (the Land of the Long White Cloud), the immigration officer asked me, very politely and with a pleasant smile, what the purpose of my visit was? When I told him that I had come to deliver a talk on elephants at the University of Canterbury, the bewildered officer exclaimed, “But we do not have elephants!” and stamped my passport and wished me a pleasant stay. It spoke so well about the country of just 4.5 million people and 60 million sheep.

WWF

Once when I worked for WWF-International, I was a member of a small working committee planning the next International Theriological (= Mammal) Congress. Two countries, Australia and Colombia, were interested in hosting the event. The Australian delegate was interested in moving the Congress to Sydney, but cautioned us that the only requirement for the visa was that none of the foreign participants had any criminal record. On hearing this, the Colombian delegate jumped up in sheer joy and informed us that on the contrary, his Government would welcome delegates with a criminal record! The Congress was held in Sydney.

In the unlikely event of a visa being issued, it does not automatically guarantee that you’d be allowed to enter the country at the other end. That depends on the mood and the maturity of the immigration officer.

United Kingdom flag

One of the most traumatic experiences one could have on arrival is at the Heathrow airport in London. You had been travelling 16 hours from Colombo and the flight lands at 9 am. It is supposed to be summer, but the sun is nowhere to be seen in the Land of Ceaseless Fog and Drizzle. Thus, even before the plane comes to a complete stop, you would get an idea of the weather that awaits you on arrival. Sometimes it appears that the plane had been taxiing through ginger beer or syrup. That’s the colour of the atmosphere outside.

Heathrow airport inside

On arrival I have to join the cattle class and then go to the queue reserved for aliens. No wonder I am often treated as if I am an extraterrestrial phenomenon!

Almost all British immigration officers are most unfriendly to non-Caucasian visitors, and often act like tinpot Hitlers. They are as hard as nails and bored as the people who serve you at McDonalds. They look miserable knowing they are stuck in dead end jobs.

Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Right behind his shoulder you can read in letters big, bright and bold, the banner that reads, “Welcome to Heathrow”. The welcome you receive is frostier than the weather outside.

The first question the bored and grumpy immigration officer with a smirk on his face asks the hapless visitor is: “When are you getting back?”

If you ask for a three-month stay in England, you are more likely to be given just a month. On the other hand, if you were to request for only a week, just to attend a conference and get back home, you may be granted a stay for six months. More disturbing is the recent news from the UK that in the future, visitors to Britain from ‘high risk’ countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana coming to Britain on a six-month visit visa will have to put up a 3,000 pound (equivalent to Rs. 594,000 in Sri Lankan currency) bond as security, according to the Home Secretary Theresa May.

Australian flag

Sometimes things can go wrong. During my first visit to Australia in 1990, I flew into Sydney from Jakarta. Before the plane landed, we were given immigration forms to be filled. There was an additional yellow card that had to be filled as well, and one of the questions on it was: “Are you carrying live semen?” to which I promptly ticked the yes box, given that I had already fathered two kids.

As I cleared the immigration and moved to the customs, I was stopped and taken to a small room where I was interrogated by a big, bespectacled, Wagnerian white woman with a pair of enormous Bristols and a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. She waved a yellow card at me and exploded, “Is this a joke?”

I was genuinely clueless as to why she blew her top and asked her what was it all about, to which she pointed the box I had ticked off to say that I was indeed carrying live semen. I told her that I believed so, to which the human volcano erupted once more and thundered in no uncertain terms that it referred to livestock and warned me not to make a joke of it ever again! It was literally a seminal experience for me. The yellow card is no longer issued.

Sri Lanka flag

In the 1960s, we had a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) member from the United States who became friends with us while we were doing research on wildlife in Wilpattu national park with Dr. John F. Eisenberg from the Smithsonian Institution and his assistant Melvyn Lockhart. The VSO chap was a hippie who loved smoking ganja (marijuana). In his lucid moments he managed to learn a few words in Sinhala which Melvyn taught. 

When he left Colombo, he was in fact carrying some ganja with him, and given his long hair and hippie demeanor, he was promptly stopped by a vigilant customs officer who wanted to see the contents of his handbag. In a flash of brilliance, despite the perspiration which had commenced its journey down his spine, he began to engage the customs officer in small talk, and told him that he had lived in Ceylon for a month and that he could even speak the local language a bit. 

When the customs officer asked him to say something in Sinhala, he promptly remembered what Melvyn had taught him, and blurted out in a loud voice “මගේ පුක්කෙ මයිල් නෑ” (Transliterated: “Magey pukkay mayil naa“) meaning “my arse has no hair” in his native Texan drawl.

All the customs officers who heard him burst out in uncontrollable laughter and began to dance (a few even had tears of joy streaming down their cheeks). They complimented him on his language skill and wished him “bon voyage“. It was the hippie who had the last laugh.

Melvyn later received a “Thank you” note from Amarillo, TX.

As a Sri Lankan, I feel that we are treated abroad as if we do not matter, despite our education, ancient culture and proud heritage. We may be short on geography, but we are long on history. We deserve better treatment in the western countries. Unlike the ASEAN countries where citizens of the member states enjoy a 14-day visa free entry to each other’s country, we who belong to the SAARC cannot go to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, or Bhutan even for a short stay without a visa!

In the final analysis, given the limitations of our Sri Lankan passport, it is far better for us to enjoy a local holiday than be subject to untold indignities and interrogations at the hands of immigration officers. As Blaise Pascal once remarked, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

.

A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author - Chamath237)
A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author: Chamath237)

 

RELATED ARTICLES

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Add this anywhere

Advertisements

Is a Passport Necessary for the Queen of England, US President, and the Pope to Travel Abroad?


.
Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj
.

To travel abroad, one needs a passport, a travel document issued by that person’s government that normally includes information about the holder: name, date of birth, sex, nationality and place of birth. The passport helps to attest the identity and nationality of its holder.

The passport holder is normally allowed to re-enter the country that issued the passport in accordance with the laws of that country. Holding a passport does not necessarily grant the person entry into any other country, nor to consular protection while abroad, or other privileges such as immunity from arrest or prosecution.

Usually, a national passport is not issued to stateless people. They may be able to get a refugee travel document to enable them to travel internationally, and sometimes to return to the issuing country.

One of the earliest known references to a document that served the role similar to that of a passport is found in Nehemiah 2:1-9 in the Bible. In this autobiographical book, also called the “Memoirs of Nehemiah”, dating from approximately 450 BC, emerges the story of a man dedicated to the single purpose of the welfare of his people.

While serving as cupbearer to the king at the Persian court in Susa, Nehemiah received permission from his master Artaxerxes I to fortify Jerusalem and served as governor of Judah for two terms, the first lasting twelve years (445–432 BC).

In the month Nisan of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when the wine was in my charge, I took some and offered it to the king. Because I had never before been sad in his presence, the king asked me, “Why do you look sad? If you are not sick, you must be sad at heart.” Though I was seized with great fear,

I answered the king: “May the king live forever! How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates consumed by fire?”

The king asked me, “What is it, then, that you wish?”

I prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king: “If it pleases the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favour, send me to Judah, to the city where my ancestors are buried, that I may rebuild it.”

Then the king, with the queen seated beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take and when will you return?”

My answer was acceptable to the king and he agreed to let me go; I set a date for my return.

I asked the king further: “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of West-of-Euphrates, that they may give me safe-conduct till I arrive in Judah; also a letter for Asaph, the keeper of the royal woods, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the temple-citadel, for the city wall and the house that I will occupy.”

Since I enjoyed the good favour of my God, the king granted my requests.

Thus, I proceeded to the governors of West-of-Euphrates and presented the king’s letters to them. The king also sent with me army officers and cavalry.

In the medieval Islamic Caliphate, a form of a basic passport, the bara’a, a receipt for taxes paid was in vogue. Muslim citizens who paid their zakah, and Dhimmis, the non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who paid their jizya as taxes were allowed to travel to different regions of the Caliphate.

The British Passport

In England, the earliest reference to documents for travel is found in a 1414 Act of Parliament. It is generally believed that King Henry V, who reigned England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422, was the first to come up with the idea of issuing the first true passport to help his subjects to prove their identity in foreign lands.

Between 1540 and 1685, the Privy Council of England granted travel documents and used the term “passport”. They were signed by the monarch until the reign of Charles II.

Etymologically, the term “passport” is derived from the document issued by the local authorities to travellers, allowing them to pass through the “porte” (French: the door, the gate) of a city wall. Generally, such documents contained a list of towns and cities the document holder was permitted to enter or pass through. At that time, a passport was not required for travel to seaports, which were considered open trading points, but it was required to travel inland from sea ports.

At that time, the passport was a simple single-sheet paper document penned in Latin or English. From 1772 onwards French was used instead.

From 1794, the Office of the Secretary of State began issuing the British passports. From then on, the Secretary of State signed all passports in place of the monarch and formal records started to be kept.

By 1855 passports became a standard document issued solely to British nationals and English was used to write passports, with some sections translated into French.

From 1914 onwards, the passport included a photograph of the holder.

Does Queen Elizabeth II carry a passport?

Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth. (Source: The official website of The British Monarchy)
Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth. (Source: The official website of The British Monarchy)

.

“When travelling overseas, does Queen Elizabeth II carry a passport?” is an oft-asked question.

In 1945, when the Queen was 18, she was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. At that time, she was given a driver licence, which became redundant in 1953 when she became Queen Elizabeth II. The World War II document signed just ‘Elizabeth‘ is one of the exhibits at the Adjutant General’s Corps Museum in Peninsula Barracks, Winchester. It was given to the then 18-year-old Princess in 1945 when she was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

.

The front cover of a British biometric passport issued since 2006. (Photographed by Benbread)
The front cover of a British biometric passport issued since 2006. (Photographed by Benbread)

.

Now, the front cover of a British biometric passport issued since 2006, features the Royal Arms, and the first page declares:

Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.

In the realms, namely in the 15 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is Sovereign, a similar formula is used, except that the request to “all whom it may concern” is made in the name of the realm’s Governor-General. In Canada, the request is made in the name of “Her Majesty,” by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

As a British passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is not necessary for The Queen to possess one. However, all other members of the Royal Family, including The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales, have passports.

The US Passport

The United States now issues three types of passports: blue, maroon and black.

US contemporary biometric passport
US contemporary biometric passport

US official biometric passport
US official biometric passport

US Diplomatic Passport
US Diplomatic Passport

American passports had green covers from 1941 until 1976, when the cover was changed to blue, as part of the U.S. bicentennial celebration. Now, around 44 million people hold the familiar blue-covered American tourist’s passport. Green- covered passports were again issued from April 1993, until March 1994, and included a special one-page tribute to Benjamin Franklin in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the United States Consular Service.

In 1981, the United States became the first nation to introduce machine-readable passports. In 2000, the Department of State started to issue passports with digital photographs.

In 2006, the Department of State began to issue biometric passports to diplomats and other officials. Later in 2006, biometric passports were issued to the public. Since August 2007, the department has issued only biometric passports, which include RFID chips. As of 2010, all previous series have expired.

Maroon-covered “official” passports are issued to the citizen-employees of the United States government assigned overseas, either permanently or temporarily, and their eligible dependents. The Maroon-covered passports are also issued to US military personnel when deployed overseas, and to members of Congress who travel abroad on official business.

Black-covered American diplomatic passports are issued to accredited overseas American diplomats and their eligible dependents, and also to citizens who reside in the United States and travel abroad for diplomatic work.

Does the US President carry a passport?

US President Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama

.

“When travelling overseas,  does the US President carry a passport?” is also an oft-asked question.

Yes, the US president needs a passport, but it is not like everyone else’s. The president, his immediate family, certain top officials, and diplomatic personnel are issued diplomatic passports, for which the holder need not pay a passport fee.

When the president travels, a team of people, usually from the State Department, coordinate the paperwork of the trip and hold on to the president’s passport. After the president emerges from Air Force One, waves to the crowd, and gets in his limo, he does not stand in the queue at the host country’s customs. The employees of the US State Department take his passport, and those of the others in his entourage, through the host country’s customs procedures.

One perk of the American presidency is that even when the president is out of office, he gets to keep his diplomatic passport.

Papal visits abroad

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

.

The Pope holds Vatican passport number one. I doubt whether his passport is ever checked.

As the head of a state, the Pope travels as a diplomat and diplomats have far less trouble crossing borders than us, the commoners. The Pope also has diplomatic immunity and is given the same courtesy and protection in any country he visits just like any other visiting head of state would receive.

.

RELATED ARTICLES

 

. Add this anywhere

 

Enhanced by Zemanta