Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 20th 2013 Contents A28
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Saturday, July 20, 2013
This weekend, the US whistleblower
Edward Snowden, will have spent four
weeks in Moscow s Sheremetyevo air-
Two thousand miles away, in neigh-
bouring Kazakhstan, a young man has
already spent four months in the transit
area of an airport---and admits it is driv-
ing him round the bend.
As airports go, Kazakhstan s Almaty
International has not much going for
it. It s small, and there s not much to
keep travellers entertained.
For Mohammed Al Bahish being stuck
there for 120 days has been an excru-
He does not even have access to the
duty free or the overpriced cafes.
The 26-year-old Palestinian refugee,
born in Iraq, is confined to what officials
call "the sterile zone" for travellers and
airport staff---he s the only one who
belongs in neither category.
He cannot enter Kazakhstan because
he has no visa, but nor does he have
a visa to enter any other country. Israel
won t allow him to travel to the Pales-
tinian territories, and the UN accepts
that with no living relatives in Iraq, it
would be unsafe for him to return to
the country of his birth.
Every day he wakes up to the same
monotonous female voice announcing
flight details, gate closures and a lengthy
Kazakh customs regulations.
"I feel like I am going slightly crazy,"
Already pale and puffy-faced, he is
confined to a windowless 2m by 3m
room inside the arrivals hall.
It reeks of cigarette smoke. There is
a bunk bed, a shabby sofa, and a Koran
on a table by the wall.
Through the door, which is slightly
ajar, new arrivals stream past on their
way from the landing gates to passport
Intensifying Mohammed s sensation
of limbo, he is fed on meals prepared
for passengers on Kazakhstan s national
air carrier, Air Astana.
"They bring aeroplane food three
times a day---tiny boxes of salad and
cakes," he says. "For the entire month
of June I ate beef and mushroom
stroganoff. I don t think I will ever eat
Airport security controls his every
movement outside the room. Occasional
coffee runs to a drinks dispenser are
permitted, as are visits to the showers
used by staff in the luggage depart-
Wherever he goes, police or security
guards accompany him.
His only opportunities for fresh air
are walks to a porch area overlooking
His only contact with the outside
world comes when the airport s irregular
free wi-fi signal flickers into life. Then
he uses Skype.
"I talk to my cousin Yaser, he lives
in Norway. I don t have any other close
family, my parents died in Iraq when I
was 16, and I don t have any brothers
or sisters," he says.
It was the desire to make his own
family that brought him to Kazakhstan
to live with his girlfriend, Olesya
Grishenko, now pregnant with their
The Kazakh national met Mohammed
on holiday in Dubai when he was work-
ing there as an interior designer.
In Kazakhstan, while registering their
intention to marry, Mohammed s
refugee travel documents went missing,
and his Kazakh and UAE visas expired.
He later flew to Turkey in the hope
of renewing his Kazakh visa, but was
turned back at the border.
"I was deported from Istanbul for
lack of a valid visa, and they sent me
back to Almaty. But here I also did not
have a valid visa so they sent me straight
back to Istanbul. Four times I flew back
and forth between the two cities,"
Kazakh immigration is keeping
Mohammed in the airport s transit area,
which legally is not considered Kazakh
Last month, the Kazakh authorities
turned down his application for asy-
Mohammed says he has been pre-
occupied with a single thought since
becoming trapped---how to escape.
"I miss the sunshine, I miss being
outside," he says.
"I see all these people leaving the
building, and I am just stuck here, I
can t go anywhere," he says.
We walk through the sliding door on
to the steps where passengers board
and disembark from shuttle buses. But
Mohammed can go no further.
The sound of plane engines fills the
air. Behind Almaty, mountains glisten.
"I get too angry when I come out
here," he says. "Because I truly feel that
I am in jail."---BBC
Life in transit: What is it
like to live in an airport?
Mohammed Al Bahish
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