Groundviews

Immigration Anxiety and Ruminations on Thought Police

I have always loved international travel, but I have always hated the “immigration” process, except for the part where I get my passport stamped. I realize what I have just written is not entirely rational since it’s hard to have foreign travel without “immigration,” but people are not always rational.

Even when doing nothing wrong, a profound sense of anxiety and apprehension wash over me as I hand my passport to an immigration official. After all, that person is the only thing standing between me and a foreign country—where I can be exposed to new thoughts, practices, mores, traditions and more. Immigration officials stand between me and learning, humility or adventure, matters I do not take lightly.

This is why I was especially nervous about applying for a tourist visa using Sri Lanka’s Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system. While not hugely important, I have said and done things that certain State officials in Sri Lanka might not appreciate. The last thing I want is anyone with a computer taking a close look at my background. I understand that I am an insignificant person. Nonetheless, I would still prefer that that not happen. So, instead of getting a visa on arrival, I did apply in advance and my application was approved within hours. What a relief! There would be no need for Valium when deplaning.

Just in case, I decided to print out information regarding my checking account; so that, if necessary, I could prove that I had enough money to purchase copious amounts of rice, curry and arrack for at least the next month. In addition, I even printed out a return plane ticket. None of that mattered since I was not asked to show proof of either when I arrived in Colombo. It was late when I arrived. The man checking my passport looked more exhausted that I did; he scanned it, although I don’t even think he looked at my picture.

I do not view overstaying my visa as a viable option; the government has been cracking down on those people recently.[1] I also read a very Orwellian story in the Daily Mirror in January, where the government announced that “The Immigration and Emigration Department (IED) will set up a special unit to monitor the activities of some tourists to Sri Lanka.”[2]

Yikes!

Now, the ETA has definitely streamlined the immigration process and, in doing so, made it easier for the CID and other State authorities to monitor people. State authorities already know my phone number and address. Furthermore, I’ve been in and out of Colombo for a while now. This makes me wonder how extensive this new monitoring unit that the government recently set up is.

Really, I just wonder exactly how many people are being watched and how heavy the monitoring is. If it were only people engaged in serious criminal activity, like the two Ukrainians who were recently caught in Negombo, then there’s no problem. Massive credit card fraud is a major issue.[3]

It seems like the NGOs and other members of civil society would be more closely watched given what has just transpired in Geneva. Although, that might not be true; the people I’m talking about might have already been closely observed even before the vote at the Human Rights Council.

I suppose a part of me would prefer total chaos at the IED. That might mean I have to wait in line a bit longer at the airport, but that would make me feel much more anonymous. As I leave the airport, I turn on my nearly obsolete cell phone to contact the person who is picking me up. I brace myself for the heat that invariably greets me as I step outside. As usual, I need to be careful of what I say. Not so much for my sake, but for the sake others.

I always try to stay apprised of the latest developments when I am away, which can be difficult. That being said, it was not difficult this time. News about Sri Lanka has been popping up all over the place.

I should look on the bright side. At least nobody here has to deal with psychological surveillance; that sounds quite invasive.

No, there are not yet any Thought Police in Sri Lanka. I don’t think there are anyway; it seems like I would have read about that.



[1] http://english.cntv.cn/20120320/113314.shtml

 

[2] http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/16273-new-unit-to-monitor-tourists.html

 

[3] http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/17567-two-ukrainians-racketeers-nabbed.html