Twenty years ago, coming off an overnight flight from Dar Es Salaam to Amsterdam on the first Saturday morning in October 1998, there was a queue to get off the plane. The Dutch immigration officials were actually standing inside the airbridge asking for passports before people actually set foot inside the Schiphol terminal building. The discrimination was apparent; if you had a white face, your passport was closed and handed back; if you had a black face, you were interrogated. We had flown on a Dutch airline directly from Tanzania; why had the airline taken the money for fares if they knew, as seemed likely that many of those they carried were to be made unwelcome?
Tired and irritable, I reached the point where I encountered two surly immigration officers. “Why are you asking for my passport here?”
They seemed taken aback. “I can ask for your passport where I like. You are entering Holland”.
“I am not entering Holland. I am a passenger in transit. I am going to the United Kingdom; I am just passing through your airport”.
“We do not know who is in transit”.
“You would if you were at passport control and not standing here. Why are you only questioning Africans?”
“Move along please”.
My friend Roger pulled at my arm. “Come on, you will end up being arrested”.
The official looked at me and said, “Move along”. I pushed my passport into my pocket in disgust and walked on.
Immigration officers are a breed apart. As Immigration officials go, the Dutch are amongst the most polite, but their methods were difficult to fathom.
Ten years ago, travelling out of Dublin on the LUAS, there was a man fast asleep on the tram. Unshaven, unkempt and of a ruddy appearance, he seemed to be sleeping off the effects of some substance. Two railway officials, both with Nigerian accents, tried to wake him. They got no response. Vigorous shaking prompted only a raised finger from him. They put on sterile gloves and tried to move him. “Is this your stop?” they asked, as we pulled up at a suburban station.
I walked down the carriage. “You can’t put him off here – we are miles out of the city. He will have nowhere to go”.
“But he was abusive to a woman passenger earlier this evening”.
“Well, call the Guards and tell them”.
“It is Friday night and they will not come”.
“Well, we are almost at the end of the line. If you are going to push him off, would you wait until the tram is back in the city?”
I tried talking to the man but got only incomprehensible mumbles in response.
Reaching our station, I rejoined my friends and we got off. The officials seemed happy with the idea of allowing the man to remain on the tram until it was back amongst streets where the man might find his way.
Officials seem not to change – in place or in time.