Monday, July 23, 2007

Queen Amidala's Trip to Amman and Erbil

By Queen Amidala
Basra, Iraq

Last month, my siblings and I flew from Basra to Amman on a business training trip. The flight from Basra to Amman usually takes less than three hours. But, our flight lasted much longer.

We were tired by the time we arrived to Amman. We thought we prepared for the usual interrogation by the Jordanian authorities at Amman airport. But nothing could have prepared us for what happened next.

We arrived in Amman at 7:30 p.m. The interrogation started at 9:30 p.m. They took our passports to examine them. Then, they questioned us separately. They asked. "What are you doing in Amman? What is the purpose of your business training? Who had arranged your training?" and many other questions. The interrogation lasted until 12:30 a.m. Then, they denied us entrance to Jordan.

Are you asking why? Well, I really don't know.

Keep in mind that my siblings, co-workers and I traveled to Amman for a business training accompanied by my little nephew. We were simply treated like garbage. And that wasn't enough for them. They still suspected the reason behind our trip.

We saw an Iraqi family -- a mother, two daughters and a son. The kids were more than 20 years old. They came from Sweden and held Swedish passports. Still, the Jordanian authorities kept them in custody at the airport for unknown reasons. We also met another Iraqi girl who traveled from Baghdad to visit her brother in Amman. She was also kept in custody for unknown reasons.

The Iraqis we met were kept in the arrival lobby. We were moved near the departure lobby. A "Staff Only" sign hanged on the doors. We were separated into two different rooms. The only furniture in both rooms was a big pile of blankets.

It was apparently the new airport's custody center. The lights were on 24hrs a day. They even denied our request to have access to our luggage to bring some female necessities.

I thought this would last one night only. We knew there was a flight back to Basra the next day. Unfortunately, the situation went from bad to worse in Iraq that night because of the curfew. All flights were cancelled to and from Iraq until further notice.

We were kept in custody for two nights. We've heard and seen a lot of strange stories of Iraqis being held at the airport:

- a student returning from Qatar.

- A judge acting as a team leader for lawyers who arrived from Dubai to attend a conference in Amman.

- A woman and her son accompanying her sick mother.

- The Dean of the law collage in Al-Najaf, who was to attend a conference in Amman.

We heard many other stories from Iraqis who arrived to Amman from all corners of the world. All were denied entrance to Amman for unknown reasons.

We had no privacy at the custody center. The policemen kept entering the room without an excuse. They let themselves in without even knocking on the door. Having the lights on for more than 48 hours hurt my eyes. They provided us food at weird hours: Breakfast at midday, lunch at 4 p.m. and Dinner at two after midnight.

They tortured us mentally by asking us repeatedly where we were going and continued to change our flight schedule.

Those were two days from hell. We kept praying and praying for God to let us through this ordeal for the sake of my little nephew. Finally, after all this waiting, they authorized our departure to Erbil.

We arrived to Erbil ans saw the sun for the first time in two days. We visited most of the tourist areas. We had a wonderful time that was always shadowed by the memory of two days at Amman airport.

Erbil is a nice city. The people are very friendly. I almost cried when I sensed the simplicity of their hearts. Even the people who worked at the hotel treated us like family. My nephew was very happy to be able to move without being stopped by airport personnel.

I wonder about what's behind what happened to us in Amman. Isn't it a violation of human rights to keep us in custody for no reason? Is it humanely proper to keep a child in custody for two days without reason? I just wonder.

-- Queen Amidala
Basra, Iraq

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