On border controls
I’m travelling over the Christmas and New Year break, and recently arrived in the Republic of Georgia.
Picture being a foreigner arriving at Heathrow Airport. Your first impressions are one of unfriendliness: drab corridors, cattle like pens to hold people while a few border force officers check passports and visas, and signs everywhere warn that you will be prosecuted if you get upset about the long queues and entry process. Not a nice welcome!
So now picture Tbilisi airport in Georgia through my experience. A brightly lit arrivals hall with many immigration booths and officers. No long queues. Yes, the immigration officers are still asking some visitors questions, in English, Russian, Georgian and probably other languages. The man next to me was explaining where he was staying and that the purpose of his visit was tourism. So imagine his surprise when the immigration officer then said, “Thank you, and here is your bottle of wine”. I saw him jump with shock, and trembled a “Thank you”.
And yes, I too received a bottle of wine. The label says ‘Seasons Greetings’. I know the volume of passengers arriving at Heathrow is far greater than at Tbilisi, but it is the attitude to foreigners that I would like to highlight. The Border Force is the first contact that most visitors have when on UK land. Why do we have to extend the government’s policy of creating a ‘hostile environment for migrants’ to every visitor to our island? What happened to the British value of hospitality? Georgia is an ancient kingdom, now a republic, with much history and religious belief and tolerance. Much like the UK. Maybe we can learn from others if we take our blindfolds off.