Texan backpackers sent packing by immigration


TOURISM IRELAND has expressed concern at the decision of immigrant officials to refuse three Texan backpackers entry to Ireland. The all-island tourism body has written to the Garda National Immigration Bureau and the Department of Justice, expressing concern at the incident which happened last Friday.

It came to light yesterday when the Dallas Morning Newsreported the case. The three friends from high school had planned to use Ireland as a starting point for their year-long backpacking trip across Europe. However, they did not even get a chance to leave the airport building and soon found themselves on a flight bound for New York.

The men said they were told by immigration officials that they could not enter Ireland because they did not have an address for their accommodation and they did not bring bank statements to prove they could afford to travel.

The trio were planning to stay with people contacted through the website www.couchsurfing.com

Colin Zwirko (21), Gavin Sides (19) and Ben Whitehurst (21) all gave up their jobs to take the trip.

Mr Zwirko told The Irish Timesthe immigration official did not believe they had enough money to sustain their trip “which I can only assume led her to some outrageous conclusion about taking jobs away from citizens or something”.

He said the trio did not have a return ticket as they were travelling around Europe and had planned to spend two weeks here before taking a ferry to Scotland.

They told immigration officials they had thousands of dollars in their bank accounts and he offered to show the officials his bank balance online, but they refused to look at it, he said.

A Tourism Ireland spokeswoman said Ireland’s reputation as a friendly and welcoming place was “extremely important and not to be taken for granted”. She hoped any investigation into the issue was concluded urgently.

Mr Zwirko said he would come back to Ireland if an apology was offered. “We’ve been put off quite unreasonably, but the terrible handling of these governmental power keepers can’t take away from the beauty of the country and the apparent hospitality of the people there,” he said.

A Garda spokesman said the Garda National Immigration Bureau would not comment on an individual case, but all decisions were recorded and available should a refused person wish to challenge the decision.

He said only “a very small number of people” were refused leave to land at ports of entry in Ireland each year as most people were aware of the requirements of the immigration authorities.

“Refusal of entry to US nationals is particularly rare, which, in part, is accounted for by the fact that the requirements Ireland makes of visiting non-Irish nationals mirrors those made by the US immigration authorities in respect of non-US nationals visiting that jurisdiction,” he said.

The Dallas Morning Newsarticle attracted many online comments. While some comments criticised the men for not checking the regulations before travelling, others were critical of their treatment by the Irish authorities.

One person wrote: “I’ll make a note to not visit Ireland.” Another wrote: “These are nice, respectful, well-behaved young men and they would leave a great impression of Americans (Texans) on any country. Ireland owes them a great big apology and should make up for this terrible mistake.”