A Kenyan travel agent who was unlawfully ‘deported’ from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport by Bangkok Airways staff intends to petition Kenya’s foreign ministry, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-OHCHR), and Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, amongst others, over what she claims was racial profiling. A civil claim for damages is also being contemplated.
Nairobi travel agent Renee Ezra, owner of The African Wanderlusts, and a companion who wishes to remain anonymous, were prevented from boarding a Bangkok Airways flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh on October 9 after check-in staff demanded they show $2,000 in cash; a sum later reduced to $1,700.
When the pair were unable to produce the amount demanded, Bangkok Airways check-in staff escorted them back to the airline they had arrived in Bangkok aboard, Turkish Airlines.
Staff of the Turkish flag carrier were told that Ms Ezra and her companion had been ‘refused by BKK immigration’ and that according to international convention it was their job to remove them from Thailand.
Their passports were placed in an envelope and given to Turkish Airlines staff until the flight arrived in Nairobi, where it was handed to Kenya immigration staff. Ms Ezra said Turkish Airlines cabin staff refused to serve her and her friend during the return flight.
A total fabrication
Cambodia does not require Kenyans, or any other nationality eligible for a visa on arrival to show $1,000 in cash to gain entry.
For Thailand the requirement is Bt10,000 (about US$328) for an individual and Bt20,000 ($657) for a family. However, in Bangkok Ms Ezra and her companion did not need to pass immigration as Bangkok Airways has a transit counter on the airside of immigration.
Speaking via Facebook Messenger from Nairobi, Ms Ezra said she is outraged, humiliated, and disappointed by the actions of Bangkok Airways staff.
Only black people asked to show funds
Ms Ezra says that she showed Bangkok Airways staff on her mobile phone that there was no such requirement. She said she also phoned the Cambodia Embassy in Bangkok who advised her that her bank statement, itinerary, and return flight bookings would be sufficient.
Her attempts to withdraw the demanded amount from her bank account was foiled by an ATM limit of $500. Stamps in her passport from a previous visit to Cambodia in 2016 were ignored.
“Of all the passengers checking in for the flight the only two people that I saw asked to show proof of funds was my friend and I”, Ms Ezra said.
“The only reason for that would appear to be because we are both black.”
An initial investigation by Bangkok Airways generated a response that it ‘strictly followed immigration procedures of all ports. The airline is regulated by national and international bodies and has no right to board passengers without complete immigration requirements’, a media release issued October 15 claimed.
However, 12 hours after AEC News Today requested the airline to specify precisely which immigration requirements Ms Ezra and her companion had breached, things had all changed.
In a full and frank admission, Bangkok Airways media relations manager, Tasara Taksinapan, said by email that, ‘in this particular case the error rests with the Bangkok Airways agents involved”.
Bangkok Airways: We were wrong
Raising the spectre that this could have happened on previous occasions to other African passengers, Ms Taksinapan said ‘the agent, and subsequently her supervisor, thought that citizens from certain countries are required to have $1,000 in hand on arrival in Cambodia.
‘The agent understood that the two passengers had roughly $500 between them and was trying to resolve what she believed to be the requirement of $1,000 for each of them, reduced by the cash on hand to about $1700.00 in total needed to show on arrival. We do not tolerate racism in any form’, she said.
Expressing Bangkok Airway’s apologies for the incident, Ms Taksinapan said the airline was treating the matter very seriously and was in contact with the passengers.
An email from Bangkok Airways to Ms Ezra seen by AEC News Today admits full liability for the unlawful deportation and specifically states ‘you are not required to carry $1,000 on arrival’.
Ms Ezra said irrespective of the airline’s apology she has suffered humiliation, inconvenience and material loss. “My dignity and human rights were abused. I was singled out because of my race.
“While Bangkok Airways can claim racism and racial profiling were not involved, the person making that statement was not the one who got harassed and treated because of their race. She obviously can’t put herself in my situation”, Ms Ezra said.
News reports of Ms Ezra being returned to Kenya have damaged her business reputation, as well as that of Thailand as a tourist destination, she said.
“As a travel agent people expect me to organise them a hassle-free trip. If I can’t plan my own travel properly, which is what the impression this gives, how can I organise theirs”, she asked.
Ms Ezra said Bangkok Airways has offered to refund the Bangkok-Phnom Penh and Siem Reap-Bangkok sectors for October 9 and 16 that she was prevented using.
It has also offered her and her companion a complimentary economy roundtrip from Nairobi to Bangkok on Turkish Airways and an ex gratia roundtrip economy class ticket on any Bangkok Airways route, provided the booking is made 20-days in advance, excluding weekends or holiday periods. Compensation of $130 each has also been offered.
“I don’t want their tickets, I don’t want to fly on either carrier again, Ms Ezra said, adding that she will discuss her options with her lawyer after they meet with Kenyan government officials and the UN-OHCHR representative.
Emails sent by AEC News Today to Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Thailand Minister for Tourism and Sports, Weerasak Kowsurat, Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission, and Suvarnabhumi Airport were not responded to. Thailand Immigration Division 1’s website was not reachable, as is often the case, preventing them from being contacted.
It would appear, however, that no mechanism is in place to protect travellers passing through Suvarnabhumi Airport from airline staff either racially profiling them, or not knowing the requirements of their job.
Feature photo Tourist Bangkok
- Are airlines profiling black passengers? (TTR)
- Kenyan Woman Narrates How She was ‘Racially Profiled’ During Botched Trip to Cambodia (Mwakilishi.com)
- Turkish, Bangok Airlines On The Spot Over Racial Mistreatment Against Blacks (Kahawa Tungu)
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia.
He has covered major world events including the 1991 pillage riots in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010 and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Prior to AEC News Today he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.