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Paris Hilton's Immigration Hell!

September 23rd 2010 16:03

Paris Hilton’s US drug conviction meant that she was REFUSED entry into Japan after 6 hours of interrogation. Australia journalist Sue Ostler knows what it feels like after her experience of being refused entry into the UK. Love was the drug…
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“This is it!” I cheered inwardly as I dragged my jelly-legs off the plane and into the Heathrow Airport terminal. I was being re-united with my man after months apart, and I wanted to look good. I ducked into the bathroom to freshen up. Judging by the jetlagged vision that looked back at me, that was never going to happen without professional hair, make up – and just a tad of plastic surgery.

I bounced out of the bathroom and towards the wall of Immigration Officers – their steely booths and expressions a reminder of the distance between their world and mine. I had a sinking feeling in my gut as I thought back to the flight attendant at Sydney International who’d questioned me about my travel documents. She seemed satisfied when I explained. Still…
A formidable, bald, heavyweight man, fresh off the set from the film Mandingo beckoned me over and boomed his warrior style greeting:
“Why did you come?”
Here it was, mistake Number One. It happens when you’ve substituted the plastic food for No-Doze and red wine cocktails as you’ve drifted through the air for two days. You feel a bit out of sorts.
“I came to visit my boyfriend.”
The official’s eyebrows shot up in a somewhat comedic manner as he twirled his pen through the air like a baton: “Give me his phone number!” he said, his eyes nearly bulging right out of his head. He wrote Ed’s full name and number down, excused himself and strode away to have a quiet word in the ear of another official who turned and just stared at me. Weird!

A few minutes later he came back and refocused his full attention to me. I could tell he meant business by the way he threw a thick wad of paper defiantly down on the bench and eyeballed its ominous white space. I had no doubt he was going to interrogate the living daylights out of me, especially when he looked me in the eye and said:
“Madame, I’m going to interrogate the living daylights out of you.”
And so began the next five and a half hours of questioning. I was tap dancing fast, but he was holding the big cane.
“How long do you intend to stay?” “Are you here on business or holiday?” “How much money do you have in your possession?” “When are you going back home?” “What is your boyfriend doing in the UK?” And most importantly, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
I conjured up an intensely earnest face that I hoped said: “I am a good citizen.” and honoured the golden rule to Stay Calm and Carry On and answered each question honestly. Apparently not falling prey to my Mati Hari School of Charm techniques, the big man disappeared behind closed doors and proceeded to ring Ed, who was waiting faithfully on the other side of The Wall.
“Miss Ostler, I’m going to have to ask you to go over and sit in area over to your left”.
I guessed it was for very bad people when the armed guards standing on either side of me refused to so much as crack a smile at my idea to light up a cigarette. Joke, guys!
I headed towards the group and took a good look around. There were a group of six or seven men slumped directly behind me. They stared at me with an open mixture of curiosity and bemusement, their inquisitive brown eyes saying, “The white woman must have done some really bad shit.” I stared back as security escorted them, one by one, to their boarding lounges and onto the waiting planes that would deposit them back to their hometown of Nigeria. I straightened my shoulders, lifted my chin and flashed them the V sign.
I was told to wait – the concept was explained, very slowly and clearly, in the event that we didn’t speak English in Australia. This was the moment I realised I’ve always had a dreadful fear of immigration officers. Especially when they’re demanding that I sit down, shut up and hand over my passport.
Shortly after, a second officer sauntered over and offered me a cup of tea.
“Would you like a sandwich with that?” How anybody could eat at a time like this? I looked at her in disbelief.
“Yes. And high-tea with scones and clotted cream would be nice.”
The No-Doze had left me groggy and twitchy. My mind was playing tricks on me. Perhaps it would all be a big laugh in a few years, and I’d write about it in some trashy, Confessions of a No Doze Temptress autobiography, but right now, I was beside myself. I shook my head politely and answered in the Queen’s finest:
“Thank-you very much, but at the present time I shall not be requiring a sandwich.”
Thirty minutes or so passed before a second official came out. “Are you the Australian?” she barked. “Yes Miss” I said giving her the single gun salute “Come with me.”
I was ushered me into a cavernous back room. They’d grabbed my luggage from the conveyer belt earlier and it was about to be searched. Things were getting madder and madder by the minute. I put my head in my hands and explained that this was all a big mistake. The officer looked at me and smirked. Her undisguised enthusiasm to Send-an-Aussie-Back would probably result in a big fat bonus.
Together we lifted my case and bags onto an unused customs desk where they were flung open and the contents scrutinized. I’d heard of recalcitrant visitors getting caught out with incriminating evidence that revealed secret plans to stay and work without visas. I had none of those things – that’s because I had no intention of working in the UK! The official seemed nonplussed with the contents of the case. The only item that seemed of any interest was my travel diary which was confiscated. That’s when alarm bells started going off.
The third and most officious official stormed out next.”Follow me”. She said taking off at an alarming speed. I jogged along behind her, checking out her kitten heels, swinging hips, the flattering tweed suit and L’Oreal styled hair, she may have been scary, but I couldn’t deny that she looked good.
Through the relentless questioning, they had established that I was travelling with a significant amount of GBP sterling, while the rest of my money was safely stored in a UK based account.
Lesson Number Two. If you plan on travelling abroad for a few months – do not, I repeat, do not open a bank account in that country before you arrive!
The official glared at me from under a tangle of heavily inked lashes (to be fair, her clumpy lashes let her down and she really needed to sort out decent mascara). She told me that it was impossible to start a UK account without proof that you were working in that country. And that my friends, is the exact moment I started to lose it.
I told her she was wrong. All you do is walk into any Thomas Cook travel agency in Australia to see how simple it is. All you need is the cash! It simply allows travellers to manage their funds while they’re away. What seemed so obvious to me seemed unbelievable to her. The barrage of questions continued. It was only later I realized that they’d been devouring the contents of my travel diary. The alarm bells reached fever pitch.
At this point I just lost it.
“There is no reason to read my diary. I don’t understand what you think you’re going to find in there!” I shrieked.
“You’ll be surprised Madam: evidence, fact, information,” she said as she toyed with the open pages.
I looked at her hard. I could sense that they’d unearthed some new information, clearly something she felt was incriminating. I had no idea what. I was speechless. My mouth opened and closed, but no words came out.
I cocked my head and listened to a distant familiar sound. “Aww freak out!” boomed out of the speaker system located directly above us.
The situation was growing worse by the minute. We’re talking a full blown episode of Deportation: Women out of Control. The inquisition continued. I explained things as best as I could. If I’m completely honest though, without boring you with all the minute details, it was complicated.
It was the fact that I’d applied, unsuccessfully, for a working Visa some time ago. “Yes.” I said. “I did apply for a UK working visa. But I didn’t get it and I forgot all about it. As I’ve said for the hundredth time, I haven’t come here to work; I’ve come here on holiday!”
I looked at G.I Jane and asked if there was a manager around. No there wasn’t. Now would I sit down and shut up!
I was becoming agitated
“Madam. I asked you to answer our questions quietly and civilly. If you don’t calm down, I’ll be forced to call the police.”
“Madam? WTF? Exactly how old do you think I am…?”
While one official questioned, the other disappeared behind a screen to interrogate Ed who, like me, was unfailingly honest, if a little inconsistent with his responses – not surprising considering he’d been out of the country for six (“What do you mean you said I didn’t live at your flat?” I screeched later. “I’d forgotten you were staying there” came his terse reply). Great!
GI Jane stormed back into the room, picked up the small black object off the desk, lifted it to eye-level and prepared to shoot. The mug-shot was the last straw.
“You’re turning into a real nightmare” I thought as I swung my profile to the left which was always my best side.
I was told to go and sit back down for the last time. At that point I got indignant “You haven’t even asked me about my work in Australia.” I said.
“Because here’s the thing, I’m a pretty big deal back home. I have absolutely no need to be come here to work.”
I looked at the clock and saw it was 8.00pm. Right about now I should be half way through cocktails and a dreamy candlelit dinner.
Another few hours passed before they led me into a smaller room where they told me to sit and wait. I knew that if I had any hope of blending in that I would have no choice but to become black and male. Dozens of men slumped around. After what seemed like an eternity, my official came back out and sat down beside me. I was fed up by now and just blurted it out:
"How bad is this gonna get?"
And that’s when she sucker-punched me. Looking me right in the eye she said, and I quote:
"We are not prepared to allow you leave into our country. The Home Office, representatives of the United Kingdom, are not convinced that you are genuinely seeking entry as a visitor”.
And with that, I Sue Ostler, B.A, international author and all round good civilian – was refused entry into the United Kingdom
‘What the --!?!’ I was stunned.
“So let me get this straight – it’s OK to be a Romanian Stowaway and climb into the rear wheel compartment of a plane to enter the country – because they’ve come from an EU and they’ve broken no laws. And terrorists; fanatics and human traffickers, sex offenders and arms dealers – they’re all OK as well are they? “You can’t just give me the benefit of the doubt and let me through. Oh no! Of course not! Why? Because I’m a terrorist threat? A thief? A criminal? A con artist? No! Because I’m an Australian. Straight from the convict country and the UK has some scores to settle. That’s what this is really about isn’t it?
Of course I said none of this. I was speechless. I looked over at the head official who was busy flirting with some guy. I demanded to see the Chief Immigration Officer. I was a Successful Person. This kind of shit didn’t happen to me.
Something about the way they completely ignored my outburst reminded me of an article I’d read about the UK's border controls: They were reportedly amongst the toughest in the world. I simply didn’t faze them. They couldn’t have cared less.
To cut a long story short, the most surprising thing was, as disasters go, it didn’t end all that badly, because incredulously, they showed me some compassion.
Since I had come this far and was obviously desperate to be re-united with Ed who I’d not seen for six months; they granted me Special Conditions.
The Home Office of the United Kingdom would hold my passport and in the meanwhile, I was free to go. In exactly 48 hours I would be required by law to report back and board flight JL402, destination Australia.
I headed down through customs and along the deserted ramp to where Ed was waiting. And there he was. Looking a million quid in his burgundy, velvet suit, a long stemmed red rose – wilting in his hand. He smiled, took me into his arms and touched my lips with his. ‘Good to see you, babe’. He smelt of whiskey. I burst into tears.

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