Share your border story

Have you ever had trouble crossing an international border? Made to wait too long, or refused entry? Questioned agressively by overly-suspicious border officials? Made to feel small, insignificant, humiliated by the state-sponsored guardians of the frontier?

Send your story to passaportproject at gmail dot com (in English, French, Italian, Maltese, Spanish... or any other language), and we'll be glad to publish it below.



yoU-Turn: back to Reykjavík
Mazen Maarouf, Iceland

(Mazen Maarouf is a poet and journalist, born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugees, currently in 'double exile' in Iceland after having received death threats in Beirut, following the publication of an article criticising Syria's Assad regime. In September 2012, Mazen featured as one of six Arab writers in Al Jazeera's 'Poets of Protest' documentary series.)

At 7:40 am the plane takes off from Keflavík (Iceland). First destination: London. Final destination is supposed to be Abu Dhabi: I am invited to participate in a translation conference there. A great opportunity to learn, also to meet writers, poets, publishers and friends I haven't seen since I left Beirut.

Around 1 pm, I am in Heathrow airport (London), waiting for the next flight to Abu Dhabi. The ground hostess checks up on my papers. She gives me back my Iceland residency permit, and says, "Here in the UK, we consider the passport, not the residency permit. Is this travel document your passport? You need a visa to Abu Dhabi. Being a resident in Iceland is not enough".

Later on, I receive a phone call. "Mr. Maarouf? We are so sorry to tell you that we couldn't get you a visa to Abu Dhabi. We tried our best but it didn't work. They say you cannot get a visa because of ‘your situation‘. We will book you a flight ticket back to Iceland ".

At 1:10 am, that is, 12 hours later, I am back in Reykjavík!

I sincerely thank the organisers of the translation conference for their time, sympathy and effort. They tried everything they could to help me. I deeply appreciate that.

I only apologise to my mom, who traveled from Lebanon to Abu Dhabi to see me.

The green Maltese passport of the 1980s. Photo by Caldon Merceica.

The green passport
Nadya Hansen, Malta

"This was before Malta was in the EU. Passports were green and there was Arabic writing inside. I was newly engaged to my Danish boyfriend who had invited me to go to Denmark with him for his sister's wedding. At that time, petrol was much cheaper in Germany then it was in Denmark, so it was a common thing to do to go over some obscure border to a petrol station, fill up, and leave again. My boyfriend's sister and her new husband wanted to take us over the border to fill up, buy beers (which were also cheaper), and head back to Denmark with supplies for a good party. Unfortunately, Schengen wasn't yet thought of, and everyone had to show their passport. My boyfriend tried to hide my green passport along with the three maroon others, but the police spotted mine and stopped us. What followed was an hour of this policeman making various phone calls, looking at me suspiciously (at that time I used to sport very frizzy long black hair, a suntan, and somewhat bushy eyebrows :) ), and telling my boyfriend that I needed a visa to get into Germany. My boyfriend kept repeating that I didn't, that Maltese citizens did not need a visa to get into Denmark either. The policeman was not convinced and kept phoning around, whilst fingering my passport from cover to cover to see if he could spot aything illegal. It sounds funny now, but I was dead scared at that time. I was sure that the police was thinking that I was an illegal immigrant on the run. What scared me most was that they were all talking about me in Danish and German, two languages that till this day I cannot understand. The policeman finally gave in and let me over once he got a phone call that I was legit and could go through.

I did not go over the border again during that holiday. I was very pleased when I finally got my maroon passport devoid of any Arabic lettering. I have now been married to my Danish husband for 22 years, and this story has been the source of family hilarity over the years. But I still feel uncomfortable whenever I visit Denmark and go over the border to Germany, even though we are never stopped now."

The Rafah border, Egypt / Gaza
Lora Lucero, Gaza

I have been refused entry into Gaza by the Egyptian border guards on two occasions. The first time in August 2011 - when I did not understand the Egyptian bureaucratic protocol. The second time in January 2013 - when I had all of the necessary papers and approvals but the Egyptian guards still refused to allow me to enter. I don't know if they wanted me to pay a bribe, or if they were just incompetent, or if there was something more sinister at play. Were the Israelis pulling the strings to keep me out?

Many people suggested that I just bypass all of the red tape at Rafah and enter through the tunnels. But I refused. After talking with a lot of people (Egyptian, American and Palestinian officials) in Cairo, I finally got the call late at night on Thursday telling me that I had been approved to cross Rafah on Sunday, with written permission from the Egyptian Intelligence office. I was welcomed with open arms by my Palestinian friends.

The Gaza Strip is one of the only spots in the world where the people do not control their own borders.

The occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) include the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. No one enters or leaves the OPT without permission of Israel (the occupier). Israel controls the airspace over Gaza, the sea adjacent to Gaza, and each of the six land crossings. Only two of these crossings are for people, Erez in the north and Rafah in the south.

Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel has blockaded the small enclave, tightly monitoring what goods and supplies enter, even keeping the Palestinians 'on a diet'. An Israeli government adviser has been widely quoted: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger."

The world needs to know about this "open air prison" and the collusion between Israel, Egypt and the U.S. to imprison 1.7 million men, women and children. We should be horrified when Israeli soldiers board a humanitarian ship in international waters headed to Gaza and kill 9 passengers. We should be horrified when Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian fishermen. We should be horrified when Israeli soldiers kill farmers at the border. We should be horrified by Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely-populated spots on the planet.

Israeli authorities also issue 10-year travel bans to people they don’t want in Israel, usually activists who are supporting and working with Palestinians. The latest news is about Adam Shapiro, an American who was detained at Ben Gurion airport. He has been told that a secret 10-year ban was issued against him in 2009 and he will likely be deported. Shapiro is the co-founder, along with his wife, of the International Solidarity Movement.

(from The world is not (yet) round, published in artistic newspaper Le monde n'est pas rond, March 2013)

The world is not (yet) round
Antoine Cassar

(Editorial of artistic newspaper Le monde n'est pas rond, 2013)

Have you ever had trouble crossing a border? As a citizen (or villager, to be more precise) of a micro-country floating like a sleepy whale somewhere between Europe and North Africa, I've had my (un)fair share of nuisance and discomfort when travelling from one nation state to another. At the Istanbul airport, for no apparent reason, I was made to wait in an office for what felt like a whole minute for each and every one of the 703 Maltese and George Crosses that decorate my passport, watermarks included. (Did you know it was possible to fit so much patriotic and religious fervour in the pocket of your jeans?) Outside the terminal of the Roma Ciampino airport, chatting and laughing away in Maltese with my well-bearded friend Kevin Saliba – who, much like our language, comes across as more North African than Southern European –, we were startled by an agent of the guardia di finanza (the Italian border police), who had no doubt overheard our Arabic-sounding exclamations (illallalalla, for instance, or the wonderfully hybrid ħaqqalmadonna), and trudged by to ask us for our passports. Malta, eh? Ma a Malta non parlate inglese? We were taken to an office, our stomachs churning in silence, and made to wait at the door whilst another guardia made a series of phonecalls. We were allowed to move on toward check-in only after I was asked to confirm that I happened to be born in London. What if I had been born in Tunis or in Tripoli, I wonder, or in Timbuktu?

Luckily they didn't bother searching us, as I was carrying a few dozen 'fake' poetic passports in my rucksack, and had I been forced to explain myself to these state-sponsored guardians of the border, we would easily have missed our plane. These 'anti-passport' booklets contain a long poem I wrote three years ago, for several reasons both personal and collective, after a humiliating misadventure I had in a quaint little village called Kasani, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, straddling the frontier between Peru and Bolivia. There I was, sweating in the queue with my 'real' Maltese passport in my hand. Finally my turn came, and I handed my passport to the soldier, with a rifle hanging from his shoulders. He gawked at the cover. “Malta??! Malta??!”, then swung his head left and right like a lunatic and called out to his soldier colleagues, his voice rising agitatedly with each shrug of the shoulders he obtained in response. “Malta? Malta? Malta? Maltaaa??!” His comic demeanour, his bulging eyes, distressed me a great deal more than his blanks in geography (despite the words Unjoni Ewropea hinted clearly under his nose), although to a certain extent, I suppose they can be excused: by surface area, the Maltese archipelago would fit into the Titicaca approximately 27 times.

The uncertainty of the situation, and the nonchalance of the other soldiers, were seriously testing my nerves, until eventually, in a darker corner of the room, a more veteran soldier banged the palm of his hand on the surface of a wooden desk, visibly excited. "MALTA!" Next to his hand, quite obviously, was a list of countries, and next to each country, a corresponding visa entry price. Three weeks before my backpacking trip, I had read on the internet that Maltese passport holders enter Bolivia for free, but it seemed they had just re-introduced the paid visa, and I was very probably the first Maltese traveller to come their way since that change. "Usteeed tiene que pagaaar… cuatrocientosnoventayocho bolivianos…" I was too tense to mentally calculate the equivalent of 498 bolivianos in euros, and I'm not even sure I remember the amount correctly; what I do remember is the fright of that multi-syllable number, the helplessness before the possibility that I was being cheated (I was and I wasn't), and the acceleration of my heartbeat. The grinning soldier then informed me that I could pay the fee in US dollars, $55, but that I had to give the exact amount as they could not provide any change. As all I had on me was a $100 bill, I spent the next twenty minutes negotiating with other people in the queue, many of them from the US. With each request for change, I felt progressively more humiliated, absurd, misanthropic. I soon got tired of explaining where Malta is, I don't think I've ever given so many geography lessons in such a short time! Eventually, I found a kind American soul who could give me the change I needed, I paid the $55, and I was awarded a visa for 30 days. Other EU citizens were being given 90-day visas free of charge. Those from the US had to pay $180, and l later found out why - quite simply, because Bolivians applying for a tourist visa to the US are required to pay exactly the same amount, $180. Symptoms of a puerile game between nation states, where people's freedom of movement depends on bilateral agreements or disagreements between governments often aloof of their own peoples. After leaving customs, I took a bus to the village of Copacabana, and it was a long while before I managed to calm down. Once reaching the hostel room, I walked straight to the window, and finally rested as the sun, at that very moment, sunk its way lazily into the sleepy waters of the Titicaca.

Indeed, this personal anecdote is but the tip of a bulging, planetary iceberg. Citizens and villagers from the so-called ‘global south’ have it much worse, unless, that is, they happen to be wallowing in money. The value of citizenship is intrinsically linked to wealth [...]