Of immigration embarkation and disembarkation forms — mere formalities?

BY: Vicky Wireko

One thing almost convinced me a couple of weeks ago that our immigration processes and procedures could be mere formalities and nothing more, in this age of critical airport screening around the world.

Face to face with an immigration officer at any port of entry, whether one has a 10-year, five or one-year valid visa into a country other than one’s own, could be somehow unsettling.  Sometimes, the kind of questions they ask and the stern face with which they proceed with their questioning can be intimidating.

Their posture most often brings one’s mind back to a reminder that is given when one is applying for a visa to another country.  It is said that even with an approved visa, the immigration officer at the port of entry has the final “authority” to grant entry. At some ports of entry, the demeanour of immigration officers makes it look as if one is standing before the last judgement seat.

Immigration scrutiny

However, I am beginning to have a different view of the immigration entry processes especially at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) which I am familiar with.  The feel of the proverbial Ghanaian warmth begins with their welcome smiles.  That is okay.  But behind the welcoming smiles are our immigration officers scrutinising every detail and raising questions on the disembarkation and embarkation forms placed before them alongside what their computers unveil? 


My curiosity peaked with the news a couple of weeks ago concerning the entry into Ghana of a 49-year-old Arthur Simpson-Kent, a British fugitive.  He is alleged to have murdered his actress girl- friend and her two sons in London and had sought refuge in Ghana late last year.

Entries on disembarkation forms

Information one is gathering on Simpson-Kent’s disembarkation form points to errors that should have been detected right at the time of arrival and as he went through immigration formalities.   This, I was convinced, was perhaps one of many errors, genuine or deliberate, that may be passing through the net every day without immigration detection.

According to a press briefing by the Director General of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) a fortnight ago, the suspect arrived on a flight from Amsterdam on December 19, 2015, and this date was confirmed with records available at the Kotoka International Airport where the passenger is supposed to have entered the country. 

However, further investigations by the police revealed that he put December 7, 2015 on his disembarkation form as the date on which he arrived in Ghana.  And this was not detected there and then at the immigration counter?

How could this be possible and how could he have passed through immigration without detection if indeed disembarkation forms are being scrutinised to every detail?  There is a clear difference between the figures 19 and 7 surely.  The printer’s devil has no excuse here.

One is, however, tempted to dismiss it as a genuine mistake if he had put  December 17 instead of 19, the date on which he actually arrived in the country.  It could even be blamed on a genuine mix-up of dates, because sometimes, one can genuinely go blank with dates especially where the interval between the two dates is close.   But to arrive on 19 and backdate arrival date by 12 good days meant something was amiss.  It is even more serious that such a mistake was not detected on his disembarkation form.  At security spots such as immigration, such mistakes could be costly.

Oversight

This particular oversight on the part of our Kotoka International Airport Immigration makes one ask whether disembarkation or, for that matter, embarkation forms put out to collate information from departing and arriving passengers are just for ticking off and handing them in.  The gatekeeping roles of our immigration posts are critical and could have security implications.  We need critical eyes applying serious attention at all times and checking every detail presented.

Uncertainties

In these days of travel and other uncertainties, we cannot afford to let our ports of entry become mere shadows of themselves.  Since it is difficult to find the mind’s construction on the face, it is only logical that documentary evidence given by passengers is examined and questioned in detail.

The wrong entries on Simpson-Kent’s disembarkation form of  December  19, 2015 are a grave exposure,  telling us that a lot more scrutiny needs to be applied when checking disembarkation or embarkation forms at our ports of entry. 

Immigration processes are critical gatekeeping duties.  Any slip through the net could have dire consequences for the country.  As a local adage goes, we do not want to be caught sleeping in our rooms with our legs outside.