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Feature Article of Friday, 29 June 2012

Columnist: Nozinic, Drazen

Robbed and Abused By Kotoka International Airport Staff

Dear Sir/Madam, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you of the most unpleasant experience my co-traveller and I had at Kotoka International Airport on Saturday May 26th. This is a matter I tried to raise with the airport's Managing Director and the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority but have received no reply.

I do not know if it bears any significant relevance in relation to the incident in question but let me just briefly explain the reasons why my British companion (I am an Irish national) and I travelled to Ghana. The purpose of my trip was twofold: I was to visit my close Ghanaian friends in Accra that I had not seen in some 5 years but I was also establishing an educational link between my organisation (FREd), Coleg Gwent, the University of Wales - Newport and a Senior High School in the Volta Region, the link that is to benefit some 900 Ghanaian students. This initiative is funded by the Welsh Government through the Wales Africa Community Links Programme. My co-traveller, on the other hand, was visiting his mother who is a local Queen in the Obuasi area in the Ashanti Region. During my stay in Ghana I too visited his mother and during that visit we agreed to assist in the building of a school that would cater for the needs of some 450 children between the ages of 2 and 6.

Overall, our visit to Ghana could only be described as enjoyable and pleasant, since the Ghanaian people are fantastically welcoming and friendly. Though the series of incidents at the airport had significantly spoilt that impression for both of us.

My colleague and I were returning to Wales where we both live on the night of May 26th. We were both booked on the TAP Portugal flight that was to leave Kotoka at 22:45. Due to problems with traffic we arrived at the airport at 21:45, an hour before the flight, just as the last call for passengers to check in was made. We rushed into the building through the main entrance but were told that we needed to go to an adjacent building that the airport staff referred to as 'domestic'.

As we approached the check-in the two staff members there, a man and a woman, flatly refused to check our passports and let us through stating that we were too late and that they were now closed. My friend, who grew up in Ghana and is a fluent speaker of Akan and several other Ghanaian languages was trying to reason with them, but to no avail, the staff were now saying that it was the TAP Portugal's policy to fine those who were late (I have checked this with the TAP Portugal's complaints and customer services departments and was told that they operated no such policy, we could only have been charged in the case of us missing the flight entirely and having to book another one). At the same time a luggage handler also got involved, uninvited, telling us that he was going to 'help us to negotiate' with the other two staff members to let us board the plane.

After some 20 minutes of 'negotiations' we were allowed through to another staff member (also a woman) who was to check in our luggage. At this point we were requested to give her money and, due to panic caused by the possibility of missing our flight, we handed over the 220 Ghana cedis we had. The same woman then weighed and labelled my colleague's bag and the same luggage handler took it away. As she had run out of labels the woman then told me to take my suitcase on the plane. However, no receipt was ever given to us, which means that the entire payment cannot be described in any other way but as a bribe. Once we proceeded to the Immigration section I was being harassed by the already mentioned luggage handler and another one of his colleagues and was forced to give them the last British currency I had left in my pocket: a mere 60 pence.

Naively, both my colleague and I at that stage thought that our ordeal was over - and we were both wrong. As we approached the Immigration hatch the officer who was seeing to my colleague requested money from him. It was excruciatingly humiliating having to watch my colleague hand over the last 2 Ghana cedis he had left, having to apologise for not having any more money and having to plead with the officer to be allowed to board the flight. The officer eventually let him through. I, perhaps because I am white, was not asked for anything.

Having passed that hurdle we were now stopped by Security officers. Referring to my colleague one of the officers asked me: 'Where are you taking him?' The clear implication was that I was a middle-aged white man who was taking a Black African with him for some sort of sexual gratification, which I found to be extremely insulting. Once I retorted that my colleague was a 32-year old father of three who could go wherever he wanted to they let us go, still mocking my colleague as we were leaving.

Finally, we settled in the departure lounge just to notice some 8 white passengers who were slowly pouring in, obviously much later than us. We quickly approached them asking them if they had been forced to pay bribes in order to get on the plane - and none of them was. When we arrived in London and my colleague was able to get hold of his luggage he immediately noticed that his bag, the same one that was taken by the luggage handler I mentioned above, was half empty. When he opened it he soon realised that he had been robbed: several hundred pounds worth of items had been stolen from him including kente materials the Queen had bought and given to him to sew clothes for her grandchildren, the mobile phone chargers, personal hygiene items etc. Clearly, the only reason why my luggage had not been touched was because I had it with me on the plane.

With the benefit of the hindsight maybe I should not have been so taken aback by what has happened. When we first arrived in Kotoka on May 12th we witnessed an immigration officer reduce an elderly female passenger to tears during the obligatory fingerprinting. She seemed to be hard of hearing and did not understand what was asked of her to do which prompted the officer to angrily come out of the hatch slamming the door behind him which was quite intimidating to the woman, and it was only through the intervention of another staff member that the lady was successfully fingerprinted after which she eventually managed to calm down. Still, knowing that Ghanaians have so much respect for the elderly I could not help but wonder where all the aggression and disrespect were coming from.

It is true that due to all the panic and confusion, accompanied by intimidation, my colleague and I were not in the position to ask for any of the staff members' names but I have no doubt that they could be easily identified through the records of who was working and at which post that night. I am prepared to fly back to Ghana in order to personally identify every single staff member who abused us at Kotoka that night.

Thank you very much, Drazen Nozinic Co-ordinator: Foundation for Refugee Education (FREd) Ltd. (Wales/Ghana) Director: Forging Links Ltd. (Wales/Sierra Leone) Director: UK Bangladesh Welfare Association Ltd

Dear Sir/Madam, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you of the most unpleasant experience my co-traveller and I had at Kotoka International Airport on Saturday May 26th. This is a matter I tried to raise with the airport's Managing Director and the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority but have received no reply.

I do not know if it bears any significant relevance in relation to the incident in question but let me just briefly explain the reasons why my British companion (I am an Irish national) and I travelled to Ghana. The purpose of my trip was twofold: I was to visit my close Ghanaian friends in Accra that I had not seen in some 5 years but I was also establishing an educational link between my organisation (FREd), Coleg Gwent, the University of Wales - Newport and a Senior High School in the Volta Region, the link that is to benefit some 900 Ghanaian students. This initiative is funded by the Welsh Government through the Wales Africa Community Links Programme. My co-traveller, on the other hand, was visiting his mother who is a local Queen in the Obuasi area in the Ashanti Region. During my stay in Ghana I too visited his mother and during that visit we agreed to assist in the building of a school that would cater for the needs of some 450 children between the ages of 2 and 6.

Overall, our visit to Ghana could only be described as enjoyable and pleasant, since the Ghanaian people are fantastically welcoming and friendly. Though the series of incidents at the airport had significantly spoilt that impression for both of us.

My colleague and I were returning to Wales where we both live on the night of May 26th. We were both booked on the TAP Portugal flight that was to leave Kotoka at 22:45. Due to problems with traffic we arrived at the airport at 21:45, an hour before the flight, just as the last call for passengers to check in was made. We rushed into the building through the main entrance but were told that we needed to go to an adjacent building that the airport staff referred to as 'domestic'.

As we approached the check-in the two staff members there, a man and a woman, flatly refused to check our passports and let us through stating that we were too late and that they were now closed. My friend, who grew up in Ghana and is a fluent speaker of Akan and several other Ghanaian languages was trying to reason with them, but to no avail, the staff were now saying that it was the TAP Portugal's policy to fine those who were late (I have checked this with the TAP Portugal's complaints and customer services departments and was told that they operated no such policy, we could only have been charged in the case of us missing the flight entirely and having to book another one). At the same time a luggage handler also got involved, uninvited, telling us that he was going to 'help us to negotiate' with the other two staff members to let us board the plane.

After some 20 minutes of 'negotiations' we were allowed through to another staff member (also a woman) who was to check in our luggage. At this point we were requested to give her money and, due to panic caused by the possibility of missing our flight, we handed over the 220 Ghana cedis we had. The same woman then weighed and labelled my colleague's bag and the same luggage handler took it away. As she had run out of labels the woman then told me to take my suitcase on the plane. However, no receipt was ever given to us, which means that the entire payment cannot be described in any other way but as a bribe. Once we proceeded to the Immigration section I was being harassed by the already mentioned luggage handler and another one of his colleagues and was forced to give them the last British currency I had left in my pocket: a mere 60 pence.

Naively, both my colleague and I at that stage thought that our ordeal was over - and we were both wrong. As we approached the Immigration hatch the officer who was seeing to my colleague requested money from him. It was excruciatingly humiliating having to watch my colleague hand over the last 2 Ghana cedis he had left, having to apologise for not having any more money and having to plead with the officer to be allowed to board the flight. The officer eventually let him through. I, perhaps because I am white, was not asked for anything.

Having passed that hurdle we were now stopped by Security officers. Referring to my colleague one of the officers asked me: 'Where are you taking him?' The clear implication was that I was a middle-aged white man who was taking a Black African with him for some sort of sexual gratification, which I found to be extremely insulting. Once I retorted that my colleague was a 32-year old father of three who could go wherever he wanted to they let us go, still mocking my colleague as we were leaving.

Finally, we settled in the departure lounge just to notice some 8 white passengers who were slowly pouring in, obviously much later than us. We quickly approached them asking them if they had been forced to pay bribes in order to get on the plane - and none of them was. When we arrived in London and my colleague was able to get hold of his luggage he immediately noticed that his bag, the same one that was taken by the luggage handler I mentioned above, was half empty. When he opened it he soon realised that he had been robbed: several hundred pounds worth of items had been stolen from him including kente materials the Queen had bought and given to him to sew clothes for her grandchildren, the mobile phone chargers, personal hygiene items etc. Clearly, the only reason why my luggage had not been touched was because I had it with me on the plane.

With the benefit of the hindsight maybe I should not have been so taken aback by what has happened. When we first arrived in Kotoka on May 12th we witnessed an immigration officer reduce an elderly female passenger to tears during the obligatory fingerprinting. She seemed to be hard of hearing and did not understand what was asked of her to do which prompted the officer to angrily come out of the hatch slamming the door behind him which was quite intimidating to the woman, and it was only through the intervention of another staff member that the lady was successfully fingerprinted after which she eventually managed to calm down. Still, knowing that Ghanaians have so much respect for the elderly I could not help but wonder where all the aggression and disrespect were coming from.

It is true that due to all the panic and confusion, accompanied by intimidation, my colleague and I were not in the position to ask for any of the staff members' names but I have no doubt that they could be easily identified through the records of who was working and at which post that night. I am prepared to fly back to Ghana in order to personally identify every single staff member who abused us at Kotoka that night.

Thank you very much,

Drazen Nozinic

Co-ordinator: Foundation for Refugee Education (FREd) Ltd. (Wales/Ghana)

Director: Forging Links Ltd. (Wales/Sierra Leone)

Director: UK Bangladesh Welfare Association Ltd

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