What you need to know:
- Upon landing back at JKIA Friday morning, she was handed back her passport and an envelope with a note stating that she had been denied entry into Bangkok by the immigration.
- She has filed a case with the DCI, recorded statements with the Immigration Department, and will be visiting the Foreign Affairs ministry on Monday.
When Renee Ezra woke up on the morning of October 7 to the nudging impulse to travel, she easily chose Cambodia as her destination, due to its renowned low-budget tourism destinations, history and pristine coral beaches.
She therefore bought a return air ticket to Phnom Penh via Istanbul and Bangkok on TurkishAirlines.com.
She had her one-week itinerary all figured out: in the first two days, she would visit the Choeung Ek site of a former orchard, the mass graves of the victims of the Cambodian genocide and the night markets, then move on to Sihanoukville, another city, for some sun and sand, then finally to Siem Reap, a resort town and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat, the “City of Temples”.
On Tuesday morning, she left the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 4.20am aboard a Turkish Airlines flight and settled into her seat for the roughly seven-hour flight to Istanbul, where she would connect to Bangkok.
The first two legs of her journey were uneventful. But as she checked in for the final leg, the 75-minute flight to the Phnom Penh International Airport, trouble struck. It was early Wednesday morning in Thailand.
She says it started as a normal enquiry — one that any traveller would expect at any check-in counter at the airport. “Passport please?” an agent for Bangkok Airways called out.
A scan of her passport, itinerary and other documents, and a few keys pressed on a keyboard, behind the computer as the questions streamed in, and then the agent looked up, indecision plastered all over her face.
“At first she said they couldn’t find the flight that I was booked,” Ms Ezra, owner of tour firm The African Wanderlusts, told the Sunday Nation.
“She asked for the visa to Cambodia, and I told her it was to be issued on arrival. She checked and confirmed that bit.
A minute passed and she called her supervisor from the back office. They spoke in their language and then asked me to show $2,000 (Ksh207, 480) for them to allow me to board the flight.
“I was fazed, because I’ve been to Cambodia before — in 2016 — and was not asked to show any cash,” she said.
“I did not know that to be a requirement for entry into Cambodia and so I did not have the money in cash. When I told them as much they said they wouldn’t let me on to the onward flight unless I showed them my $2,000 or at least $1,700.”
Unnerved, she showed them some Sh132,000 (about $1,270) she had in her purse.
“But they said they wanted to see US dollars. I logged on to my online banking apps and showed them to prove that I had enough money to be a tourist. They would have none of it. So I was forced to go to an ATM, where I could only withdraw $500 (about Sh50,000) due to transaction limits.
With that I asked one of the stewardesses to accompany me to the closest forex bureau to change the Kenyan money. But the bureau said they did not accept Kenyan currency.”
Now minutes had turned into hours. She had a three-hour layover to board the next fight so she used this to seek help from the Kenyan Embassy in Thailand.
“The lady at the Embassy who answered my distress call said, ‘It’s not in our place to assist in such matters,’ but I didn’t give up. I called the Cambodian immigration, who confirmed that there was no requirement for Kenyans to show $2,000.
The official on the phone said they didn’t need cash — the bank statements would do. Furthermore, I had all return tickets and a full itinerary showing it was just a week of holiday.”
That, however, did not solve the problem. “Moments later, the Turkish Airlines counters opened and a discussion started between the two airlines,” she recalled.
“What hurt most was the fact that there were so many people being checked in without having to show cash,” she claimed. “A black man was also facing the same predicament. We were being profiled!”
On Thursday, she was put on a flight back home. “I was escorted by their staff at the airports like I was a criminal. I was traumatised,” she said. On the plane, she said the hostesses did not serve her.
Upon landing back at JKIA Friday morning, she was handed back her passport and an envelope with a note stating that she had been denied entry into Bangkok by the immigration.
“It is ridiculous because I was in transit. I never passed through immigration, nor did I meet anyone from immigration."
She says she has taken up the matter with the Kenyan authorities. “I hope this opens up conversations about matters that we as black people, especially from the Third World countries, face during international travel,” she said.
She has filed a case with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, recorded statements with the Immigration Department in Nairobi, and will be visiting the Foreign Affairs ministry on Monday.
Ms Ezra, who related her ordeal at the Bangkok Airport on Twitter, while tagging the two airlines, asked: “Why on earth would you treat your passengers like this? As a human being I am deeply hurt, saddened and disappointed by your actions.
Do better as service providers and prove us wrong that this isn’t a mere case of racial discrimination! I have had a 12-hour forced layover, with no food and water. I’m infuriated!”