Feature Article of Saturday, 9 June 2012
Columnist: IMANI Ghana
On June 7th three Ghanaian entrepreneurs travelling on the same reservation (AMADEUS: Z3YJ3S) were stopped from boarding flight LH567 by vetting staff employed by Lufthansa to screen the immigration documents of passengers.
The Lufthansa agents insisted that the passengers required “Transit A visas” to travel through Frankfurt to their final destination outside the European Union.
None of the travelling Ghanaian passengers had said transit visa.
One of them was in possession of a valid resident permit for the United States (however, though the endorsement was in his passport, the associated plastic card was not), another had a permit for the UK, and all three of them had full authorisation to enter their final destination which was not in the European Union.
In the circumstances, the screening agents refused boarding to one traveller because he did not have the plastic card detailing the US residence permit endorsed in his passport, and to another because he did not have a current UK, Schengen or UK travel or residence permit. Since the party was travelling together on the same reservation, the three passengers demanded equal treatment, at which point the agents proceeded to formally issue a boarding denial notice to all three of them and went further to photocopy and file copies of their passports without their consent.
The intriguing fact is that at 2pm of the same day that the flight was scheduled to depart Ghana (at 9:05 pm), the travelling party had called the German Embassy and had been put in touch with the officer directly responsible for visa management. They had been fully assured that it was the position of the German authorities to relax transit visa requirements for Ghanaian passport holders travelling through Germany directly to their final destinations, provided they had authorisation to enter the destination country.
Indeed a detailed search of the embassy’s website provides no “transit A” visa requirements and procedures.
It is also noteworthy to point out that except with boarded passengers, agents of an airline purporting to screen passengers for immigration compliance purposes have no authority to retain the passports of Ghanaian citizens and subject such passports to any procedures beyond processing for boarding, and certainly not without the consent and against the express wish of such citizens. The Sovereign Ghanaian passport remains the property of the Government of Ghana and should serve to facilitate the passage of Ghanaian citizens within international covenants and conventions.
Due to the pressing nature of the business the three gentlemen were travelling to pursue, it was finally agreed that the member of the party with the valid UK travel permit should still board and travel with the view of salvaging part of the joint travel objective of the party.
When this gentleman arrived at Frankfurt Airport, he proceeded directly to German Immigration Police to inquire about this situation and was once again assured of the absence of any policy requiring transit “A” visas, or indeed any transit visas, for Ghanaians travelling directly, airside, through the airport to final destinations outside the EU. Indeed, it will be noticed that the airport is physically designed in such a manner that airside transits do not require formal immigration screening, except where the transit itself would facilitate access to the Schengen area.
Clearly, the policy to deny boarding to the party of three entrepreneurs is an entrenched Lufthansa strategy that has probably been used to burden, block and wantonly discriminate against many Ghanaians travelling or seeking to travel on important matters over a long period of time.
Clearly, this policy is both unethical and illegal, and is not grounded in updated research into immigration matters, or any care and attention to Lufthansa’s duty to its Ghanaian clientele. If anything at all, Lufthansa regards Ghanaian customers as undeserving of the care and attention its own stated principles require that it dispenses to all its global customers. It is consequently anti-Ghana and disgracefully so.
The airline refused initially to allow a senior staffer to address the legitimate concerns of the travelling party before finally relenting and initiating a phone conversation with someone who claimed to be the “Manageress” of the airline in Ghana. She was rude and unresponsive, and claimed to take her instructions in immigration matters from a “Hubert” based at the German embassy whose designation and role she was categorically unwilling to disclose. Despite several attempts to explain to said “manageress” that her position was at best disputable, she maintained an unreasonable posture against dialogue and compromise.
This is an important matter for the Ghanaian authorities to investigate. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority and the Ghana Airports Company should reassure themselves that Lufthansa does not have a determined policy to frustrate Ghanaians pursuing travel for legitimate, and in many cases nation-enhancing, objectives.
If the airline has adopted an extreme risk-management attitude to immigration in furtherance of its own legal comfort, Ghanaians cannot be made the butt of such a retrogressive and discriminatory agenda in their own country, and our authorities should ensure that such a thing does not happen. It is perhaps the case that the airline perceives Ghanaians to constitute such a serious immigration liability (i.e. every Ghanaian is looking for a chance to breach European immigration law) that it feels compelled to institute and enforce extreme measures, we are afraid that such latitude is not granted under Ghanaian law in view of this country’s cherished human rights culture. Lufthansa cannot abuse Ghanaians to safeguard its prejudices. It cannot make its own, ad hoc, immigration policies in wanton disregard of law, ethics and public policy. And at any rate it does not appear to have the support of the German authorities to do this in their name.
This serves both as public notice and an official complaint to Lufthansa and its Ghanaian operation.
*Kwadwo Kwakye, Chief Executive Officer, Young Explorers Global/Member of the Board, GTTP*
*Michael Amankwa, Chief Executive Officer, CoreNett/Member of the Board, First Capital Plus*
*Bright Simons, Director of Development Research, IMANI-Ghana*