Like everyone, I was also planning my Christmas vacation for this year (2016). As it happens, my best mate who also happens to be my flatmate of two years invited me to spend my vacation with him and his family in Mexico. Based on the visa guidelines given by the Mexican embassy in the UK, one can enter Mexico with a valid UK Visa (and other supporting documents such as return tickets etc.). So, I booked my flight tickets and gathered my supporting documents. Everything appeared to be fine, I packed everything and boarded the flights. I was so much looking forward to being in Mexico and living this promising experience of a traditional Christmas and New Year celebration.
I had flights from Edinburgh to London (BA 1455 19th Dec), London to Madrid (BA516 19th Dec) and Madrid to Mexico City (BA4285 19th Dec). I showed my documents before boarding each flight and everything appeared to be fine. I finally landed on Mexico city around 4 AM local time 20th December without knowing the horrible experience that was about to unfold. I went to the immigration and showed my Indian passport and UK visa. The woman in the immigration wasn’t clearly happy. She asked me what job do you do? I said I’m a teaching fellow. She noted that my UK visa says “limited work”. I told her it means I cannot do any other jobs other than my main job. She then went to speak with someone and came back. I was then asked to fill in a questionnaire. I was asked, why I came here, with whom I would be staying, how am I going to support myself and I filled everything. A person from the immigration took the questionnaire. I then received no official verbal or written response from Mexican immigration. I was curious that they didn’t even ask for my supporting documentation.
After a 10 to 15 minutes, a security guard came to collect me and I was made to sit down and was asked me to remove all my belongings. And, I was made to sign in a registry of some sort. Even at this point, I had no idea what was happening. They didn’t tell what happened. I was then put in a detainment room that already had several other detainees. At no point did they say to me personally that my entry into Mexico was rejected. I was just sent into the detainment room with a bunch of other people. At this point, I panicked and was asking the security guard what’s happening. She said in broken English, “you going back”. I started to panic. Even until this point, I did not receive any official communication regarding the decision and the reasoning behind it from the immigration office. Not even an oral “we are refusing your entry” from the immigration officers themselves.
I repeatedly requested to speak to someone in English from the immigration office to explain my position, I even pleaded in my broken Spanish for the same. (Quiero hablar en inglés con alguien, Quiero hablar en ingles con immigracion). I pleaded for hours and hours. They consistently lied saying officers are busy and that someone will speak to me shortly. I was hoping all the time that someone from immigration will come and speak to me to explain their decision. I hoped that I will be interviewed and given by basic human right of explaining myself.
If there was some misunderstanding about my intention to visit Mexico, I could have cleared it. I had my staff card, I have university profile page and everything. I have the details of my friend, his official details, my return tickets and everything. I have no intention to stay in Mexico. I just had to go back to work in the UK as shown in my visa! I could have explained everything. I waited and waited. There were some immigration officials coming near the detention centre. I was asking “Can someone please explain why I’m here?” but to no avail. No one would answer to me. I was losing all my hope at this point.
After waiting for hours together, someone came for me from the immigration and also the airlines to put me on a flight to Madrid. I told them that I don’t have a Schengen visa, as an Indian national I can only transit in Madrid with connecting flights. I was assured that this will be taken care of and I will be cleared through immigration and be given connecting flights. Did it happen? Hell no! I had the Spanish police waiting for me. Someone from the airlines informed that I don’t have a valid Schengen visa. I was taken by the police to the detainment centre in Madrid.
They questioned me why I don’t have a valid Schengen visa. I had to explain that I was transiting and didn’t need a visa to transit as an Indian. And that the airlines was supposed to give me connecting tickets once I reach Madrid. I was then put into detainment again. But this time, people were visibly nice to me. After a while, I was told that they knew that I was denied entry to Mexico and assured that I will be put on a flight to London. I was surprised and said to them that I live near Edinburgh. But then I was happy in a way that I just wanted to reach the UK. Once I reached the UK, I could go home, however possible. The Spanish police escort me to the flight.
The flight reached London and I was said that I had to wait for the UK immigration. I nearly lost all hope. But someone from Heathrow came through and told that no complicated procedures were necessary as I never actually entered any country. And to my relief, I also found out that I had my tickets up to Edinburgh! (No one told me that either) I finally passed through UK immigration and everything was finally fine and I reached Edinburgh!
I’m still extremely angry because no one from the Mexican immigration office in Mexico city at any point did officially contact me and explain their decision. They didn’t even verbally communicate the decision. I was never given a chance to explain my position, I was never interviewed. It extremely infuriates me that I still don’t know what was wrong my documents. My UK visa is perfectly valid, my passport is quite clean with several valid Schengen visas. I had everything. All they had to do was talk to me and listen to the story from my side. But it never happened. They didn’t even have a look at my supporting documentation. One of the basic human rights is to listen to me and allow me to explain my position. I had to beg for water and the security guards made fun of me for repeatedly asking to speak with someone. The actions by the Mexican immigration are despicable and totally unacceptable. I have a PhD, I teach Computer Science at St Andrews, one of the top universities in the UK. I am sort of a well-known academic in my niche field, I have published papers, spoken in conferences around Europe! Never have I treated like this anywhere in Europe!
The country has just lost someone who could contribute to them. I work with digital paleography and was even proposing to work on a project that included Mayan Hieroglyphics. As a computational linguist, I was interested in the workings of Nahuatl. I saw Mexico as a rich cultural country that I can contribute to in terms of my skills. But they treated me like a criminal and never gave me a chance to explain myself. For a country, whose citizens are mistreated elsewhere, the way it mistreats its visitors is ironical at the least.
I think the trip made me more human and more empathetic. But within these three days, I had met so many different people in the detention centres in Mexico and Madrid. I’m not even sure if I would ever meet such a broad spectrum of people again. I had a guy, who wanted to be a refugee in Mexico from the war-torn country of Cameroon, supporting me and trying to calm me down by assuring now and then that everything will be alright. Another guy (from Cameroon as well) was literally shouting at me (as a friend) so that I would have some food. A woman from Columbia who wanted to play dominoes with me seeing that I was lonely. I don’t know these people,. I don’t even share their nationality but they did empathize with me and offered me support. At least I had a home to go to, but many of these people were fleeing their countries. I want to think that when in trouble the better aspect of humanity shines through.
Did I miss having a great vacation with my friend, yes I did. I missed having Mexican food, I missed experiencing Mexican culture, missed knowing Mexico. I had so many great Mexican friends that I wanted to experience the country, know more about it. As a history buff, I missed visiting Aztec pyramids. But I suppose I could have this any point in time. However, the experience I had in the past three days is inexplicable and life changing. This will be with me all my life, the desperation, hopelessness, relief and the absolute joy of coming back home. So many emotions have I experienced in the past three days. This is just my side of the story.
My best friend was on the other side, waiting for me, the flight arrived a bit earlier than expected, and he had to rush. He waited for an hour, that is the usual time required to pass through immigration and collect the luggage bags. He was waiting patiently for another hour, thinking that maybe it was an extremely busy time. But after three hours, things were clearly not right, he tried asking to the police offices outside the international arrivals gate, but they couldn’t provide any information, they said he had to wait, that probably I was in immigration. After 4 hours desperation and uncertainty started to invade him. At that point, he was certain that things were not right. He got in touch with the airport information service, hoping they could at least ask whether I was there. They said he had to get in touch with the Indian embassy or the airline. Which he did, he got in touch with the Indian embassy in Mexico, and after getting in touch with apparently the consul, he was asked to call again in an hour, and see whether they had any information. After that, he spent the next hours calling the embassy every 30 minutes, and he could never get through again. As for the immigration service, they said they couldn’t provide any information. It was total isolation for him. I quickly called him from my return flight to Madrid and explained to him what happened. Lots of tears were shared between us.
I was saying to a good friend of mine, there are no good or bad experiences in the long run. They are all experiences, and they make us feel alive. When I think about this 10 years from now or 20 years from now, I suppose I would be like “oh I have experienced it!”. And this will surely be an experience that will stay with me forever and my first impression of Mexico as a country how it treats its visitors.