People look forward to a relaxing holiday when they plan for a vacation. But for many Indians travelling to Georgia on an e-visa, there only seems to be harrowing experiences in store.
Hari Govind, a postgraduate medical student along with his wife and five others decided to go on a holiday to Georgia in Eastern Europe, a site that is emerging as an upcoming tourist destination. They had e-visas, and had booked tickets from Kochi on the October 19.
However, the excitement for the holiday was shortlived when they were deported, and reached Kochi later, with Rs 2.5 lakh down the drain. They flew via Sharjah.
“On October 19, when we were about to board the flight from Kochi, the airport staff told us that there is some issue in Georgia. That if you go, most probably you will get rejected,” Hari said. They decided to take the risk and go anyway, because they had all the requisite documents.
The airport officials at Sharjah, however, have noticed the trend. “They advised us, as a necessary precaution, to keep an extra set of clothes and essential medicines in the cabin baggage – because if they send you back, you’ll be stuck at Sharjah airport for one or two days.”
They reached the Tbilisi International Airport and joined the immigration queue, but were taken aside when the officials saw that they were carrying Indian passports. There were taken to a separate room and interviewed one-by-one for about 15 to 20 minutes each.
“They asked me how much money I was carrying, so I told them I was carrying $200. They said that it is not enough. I told them that my wife is outside, my friends are outside, my brother is outside and they all have money with them – together we have about 3000$, and I also have a credit card. I also showed them my bank account statement, but they were like ‘No, I don’t want to hear all this. How much money do you have with you’.”
Hari hadn’t paid for the hotel but had booked one, as there was no option to pay. When he asked the immigration officials why they were being deported, they just told him that he had given wrong information.
“My brother had a US residence visa, so he was initially allowed. His wife doesn’t have one. While interviewing her, they asked her where her husband was. When she told them that he was outside and that he had been allowed entry, they called him back and put a ‘rejected’ stamp above the ‘allowed’ stamp,” he further adds.
They were deported and sent back on the same flight. However, they were stuck in Sharjah airport for 36 hours after that, and could only return when they could find a flight to Kochi which wasn’t full.
A source at the Cochin International Airport confirmed to TNM that 18 Indians who had flown from the airport had been sent back in the past three months alone.
"Georgia seems to have made its immigration rules tough, there is no clear explanation on why Indians are being sent back. In a report we got, they have merely said these were 'non-eligible passengers'. The MEA has been informed about the situation," the source said.
Another source who works with immigration added that they were told that many people are using Georgia as a transit point to enter America. "There was some diplomatic issues between US and Georgia. So it must be Georgia's efforts to placate America," the source said.
A reader, however, pointed out that this might not be the case. She was harassed when she was leaving Georgia.
Even the coffee counters refused to serve me, citing that they're shut, while continuing to serve others. I had US$ as well as GEL in hand.— WolfMomma (@wolfmomz) October 27, 2017
This isn’t the first instance of Indians being sent back. In June, Khushbu Kaushal, a single woman travelling to Georgia, wrote a post where she said that she had been held for nine hours, and then deported.
After Khushbu’s post went viral, many wrote about their experiences of having faced the same.
A simple search throws up multiple instances of Indians being deported from Georgia in the last few months. Travel blogger Shivya Nath too, who has written about her experiences in Georgia, reached out to Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj too, asking her to look into the matter.
The Embassy of India in Yerevan, Armenia, has earlier issued an advisory which said that Indians should refrain from travelling to Georgia on an e-visa.