A Kenyan woman has narrated how she was racially profiled at an airport in Bangkok during her journey to Cambodia last week.
On October 7th, Renee Ezra made a decision to visit Cambodia due to its famous low-budget tourism destinations, history, and pristine coral beaches, Sunday Nation reports.
She purchased a return flight ticket to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh via Istanbul (Turkey) and Bangkok (Thailand) on TurkishAirlines.com. She was to spend the next week in Cambodia.
She left Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) at 4.20 am on Tuesday, October 8th, aboard a Turkish Airlines flight and after seven hours, she arrived in Istanbul, where she would connect to Bangkok.
Ms. Ezra says she connected to Bangkok without any problems until she sought to board her final 75-minute flight to the Phnom Penh International Airport.
It was early Wednesday morning in Thailand when she got in trouble with an agent for Bangkok Airways.
“At first she [the agent] said they couldn’t find the flight that I was booked,” Ms. Ezra, who is the owner of tour company The African Wanderlusts, told Sunday Nation.
“She asked for the visa to Cambodia, and I told her it was to be issued on arrival. She checked and confirmed that bit.”
She said the agent later called her supervisor from the back office and after a short conversation, the two demanded she shows them $2,000 for her to be cleared to board the flight.
“I was fazed because I’ve been to Cambodia before — in 2016 — and was not asked to show any cash,” said Ms. Ezra.
“I did not know that to be a requirement for entry into Cambodia and so I did not have the money in cash. When I told them as much they said they wouldn’t let me on to the onward flight unless I showed them my $2,000 or at least $1,700.”
She showed them Sh132,000 (about $1,270) she had in her purse but they insisted it must be in the form of US dollars.
“But they said they wanted to see US dollars. I logged on to my online banking apps and showed them to prove that I had enough money to be a tourist. They would have none of it. So I was forced to go to an ATM, where I could only withdraw $500 due to transaction limits.”
She continued: “With that, I asked one of the stewardesses to accompany me to the closest forex bureau to change the Kenyan money. But the bureau said they did not accept Kenyan currency.”
Her efforts to get help from the Kenyan Embassy in Thailand were unsuccessful.
“The lady at the Embassy who answered my distress call said, ‘It’s not in our place to assist in such matters,’ but I didn’t give up. I called the Cambodian immigration, who confirmed that there was no requirement for Kenyans to show $2,000,” said Ezra.
“The official on the phone said they didn’t need cash — the bank statements would do. Furthermore, I had all return tickets and a full itinerary showing it was just a week of holiday.”
The officials would not allow her to travel even with the confirmation from the Cambodian immigration.
“Moments later, the Turkish Airlines counters opened and a discussion started between the two airlines,” she recalled.
“What hurt most was the fact that there were so many people being checked in without having to show cash. A black man was also facing the same predicament. We were being profiled!” she claimed.
Ms. Ezra said she was put on a flight back to Nairobi on Thursday like a criminal.
“I was escorted by their staff at the airports like I was a criminal. I was traumatized,” she said, adding that the hostesses in the flight refused to serve her.
Upon landing at JKIA on Friday morning, she was given back her passport and an envelope with a note stating that she had been denied entry into Bangkok by immigration.
“It is ridiculous because I was in transit. I never passed through immigration, nor did I meet anyone from immigration."
Ms. Ezra indicated she has taken up the matter with the Kenyan authorities. “I hope this opens up conversations about matters that we as black people, especially from the Third World countries, face during international travel,” she said.
Taking to Twitter, Ms. Ezra tagged the two airlines, lamenting: “Why on earth would you treat your passengers like this? As a human being, I am deeply hurt, saddened and disappointed by your actions. Do better as service providers and prove us wrong that this isn’t a mere case of racial discrimination! I have had a 12-hour forced layover, with no food and water. I’m infuriated!”