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My Worst Experience at Zia International Airport

Abdullah Talukder

                

The situation and behavior of officials and   workers at Zia International Airport has deteriorated at a very low level. These people are stooping to very low levels in the form of threats and harassment of innocent travelers. Whilst I have been on many trips, I have received harassment from both male and female staff, who have always asked for a bribe. I must stress that not all workers have stooped to such levels, but it is probably a small minority behave which give the rest a bad name.                                                                  

Let me set the background, to my worst experience at Zia International Airport. It   occurred in January 2000. I had recently got   married, and returned to Bangladesh to bring   my wife back to the UK. My wife is a practicing Muslima and wears the burka, she is also highly educated with a degree from a reputable Bangladeshi university. I myself, am a practicing Muslim, and highly educated, with bachelor and post-graduate degrees from highly reputable British universities. Currently, I am working as an engineering consultant for a major British firm. 

My wife and I arrived at the airport, and 'checked in' at the check out counter. After which, we had to say goodbye to our loved ones, and proceed to the restricted area for passport control. At passport control, the immigration officer, allowed myself to pass, but stopped my wife. Although my wife's papers were in order, the immigration officer called another immigration to help him harass my wife. You must be able to picture the scene. My wife was alone, she had just been married, she was wearing the burka, she was a practicing Muslima, the immigration officers knowing that she was a practicing Muslima and did not have much previous contact with men deliberately began to hassle her. What is worse, is that they called other immigration officers to pressurize her? After a while, the immigration officers began to threaten her, they stated that: 'they would take her away, and do whatever they wanted to her'. They reinforced there point, by saying that: 'they could do what ever they wanted because they were immigration officers'. At this point, I managed to argue back with   the immigration officers. I was extremely worried for my wife. I remember a British man being killed at Zia International Airport by officers, and became scarred that the same may happen to her. I also feared that all the male officers would take a practicing Muslima away, and do whatever they wanted to her. I shudder to think what they could have done. Their motives became clear, when they demanded a bribe, in exchange for releasing my wife. I was cornered, and forced to give a bribe of Tk500. When I gave the money to the officers, they began to smile, as if to say they had achieved their objective. It seemed that they felt proud that they could intimidate travelers especially Muslims and demand money from them.

 Once I was back in the UK, I complained to the British government, and to the Bangladeshi government, I personally sent a letter to Shaikh Hasina, and other Bangladeshi Institutions such as the Bangladeshi High Commission, and the officer-in-charge of Zia International Airport. Needless to say, the Bangladeshi effort to do anything was minimal. The British government was more sympathetic, they replied to me, stating that this type of incident had happened before. They tried to put pressure on the Bangladeshi authorities to do something about it.                           

The manner and behavior of these airport workers is disgusting, they are prepared to harass anyone whether they are male or female. The more vulnerable the travelers look, the more likely they will be harassed.  Itís high time that the Bangladeshi government did something about it and make Zia International Airport, an airport worth having.                                     


Abdullah.Talukder@Fluor.com 

 


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