Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Christmas from hell

We never saw it coming.

Llara, Rick and I after a wonderful 48 hours in Dublin together before heading for Barcelona to spend Christmas together in Argelès. It would be the first Christmas with my daughter after too many missed years.

Debarking we lined up for customs.

Rick went through first.

Llara second.

They shuttled her off to one side. Neither customs persons spoke English or French. Neither Spanish or Catalan are my languages.

After being cleared I started to go back with Llara. I was stopped until I did a baby motion, pointed to myself and then Llara. The customs man nodded.

We waited and waited and waited. Finally someone came to explain in limited English she was not to be allowed in the country.


After Llara finished her degree in Scotland she spent time with me in Switzerland. The goals were to spend some time seeing friends and things around Europe...this would be her last free time until she found work and retirement that a block of freedom would exist.

Then between surgery for my broken face, my commitment ceremony, she decided to stay until September when she would return to Boston to look for a job and get on with her life.

We thought she was limited to 90 days in Switzerland at a time so she kept going to France, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and other places to meet the requirement. It was her chance to play tourist around Europe.

All these trips did not involve going through border crossings taken down because of the Schengen treaty so there were no stamps in her passport.

For those that don't know the Schengen Area operates very much like a single state for international travel purposes with external border controls for travellers entering and exiting the area, and common visas, but with no internal border controls. It currently consists of 26 European countries covering a population of 400+ million people and an area of 4,312,099 square kilometres.

In Zurich the border police told her that she had violated the Schengen agreement agreement and the 90 days covered all Schengen countries. It didn't matter if she was out of Switzerland. She had to be out of Schengen.

We paid the 500 CHF (US$609) fine.

What we didn't realize she'd been forbidden to reenter any Schengen country until fall 2016.

The police came

The police in Barcelona took her away. I wasn't allowed to go with her.

The US Embassy

Rick couldn't get on the airport wifi. We were trying to conserve his phone battery. Information was able to give us the consulate's phone number. We did reach them. They could do nothing but contact the police and try and locate her and get a status report.

They found her and called us back. 

They said she was to be sent back to Dublin then onto to the US. However, they would not send her directly to the US even if she paid. They said it was the law.

Llara finally was allowed to sms us.

Rick and I changed her ticket home on the 30th to the 24th. Despite taking 45 minutes, United was helpful. We found a ticket for the next day, the 24th.

Julia was working on getting her a hotel in Dublin for the night of the 23rd near the airport and seeing what Switzerland could do which turned out to be nothing.

All was arranged.  She was to fly out of Barcelona at 21h to Dublin, stay the Radisson Blu and then to the US the next day.

I still wanted to see her, hug her. I wanted her to have her suitcase which we had been lugging around.

I love my daughter...her suitcase for a week was double the size of mine for a month. In fairness she did have presents and things I'd asked for like canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce.

We walked what seemed like miles to the police station where they told us she would be, only she was only she wasn't. She was at another station which meant a 15 minute bus ride to the other side of the airport.

We finally connected with the right police, one of three in the area, that we had to talk to before getting the right one.

Language was still a problem. I know it is Spain, but border people should be multi-lingual everywhere. I could have done something in three languages neither of them Spanish nor Catalan.

And than thank God, I found a policeman with fluent French. He was very, very, helpful. About the only person who acted sorry for the situation and didn't have a permanent growl as part of his vocabulary. Perhaps it helped because he spent a lot of time in Collioure, next to Argelès and realised that he was separating a mother and daughter at Christmas for a glitch.

Situation as of 14:22 five hours after Llara tried to enter Spain

I was given permission to see her.

She would be brought from her holding cell but only so far or it would be considered she was in Spain.

We would have 5 minutes.

I could give her her suitcase.

I was told to wait 5 mins. then 5 mins. then 5 mins. then ...

Finally I was led through a hallway, up an elevator and told to sit.

She was brought to me

A guard bustled up and told us she couldn't have her luggage because it had entered Spain. Of course it had since baggage was on the other side of entry customs. Had we not picked up the case it would have been destroyed.

She was allowed a tooth brush, the sandwich I'd bought for her and bottle of water. She had not been fed, but food had been promised. She was able to take a couple of books.

A police woman did speak minimum English. Her boss's boss looked at each item I wanted to leave. He growled his ascent for each item and said no to most. He suggested we take the suitcase to Ryan Air for the night's flight.

We were allowed to hug before they took her back to her cell.

Other factors

Llara had a return ticket to show she didn't intend to stay in Schengen.

They provided her with a lawyer late in the day and an interpreter. He said as the daughter of a Schengen national we should appeal and get the restriction lifter.

Christmas Eve morning Argelès 8ish

"You won't believe this," Rick said as I got out of the shower where I'd pictured my daughter boarding a US-bound plane for Boston.

The Spanish police hadn't put her on the plane. Lost were the tickets and the hotel costs. Cost isn't the issue but it added to the aggravation. Fortunately we had not put the suitcase on the airplane that the police were supposed to put her on.

We had no idea where she was at that moment. The SMS, saying she hadn't been flown out, had come in around midnight while we slept and she wasn't responding to emails, sms, or voice mail.

Another call to the embassy to see if they could locate her. The same woman, who was as helpful this time as she was last, said she would try and track her down. Although it was now Christmas Eve day and the consulate would be closing, she went to work on our problem. 

When the embassy woman called back, she told me my daughter was still in a holding cell but her phone had run down. At some point they would let her call me on the police phone. The embassy woman had already verified all our phone numbers. There was nothing to do but wait.

Situation Christmas Eve Day morning

Llara finally recharged her phone on her computer which was also almost out of power. She had been allowed to keep what had been her carry-on and the few things taken from the suitcase. About 10 she was able to contact us.

They'd found a flight for her on the 26th to Dublin. At that point she would have to spend Christmas eve and day in a cell rather than the wonderful one we had planned. We later found out they had used Rick charge card without authorization and just had Ryan air bill the card that had paid for Llara's original ticket. Tickets that weren't used.

Around noon she contacted us again. She was in the terminal waiting for a plane. Some policewoman had kept trying to get her a flight out that day and succeeded--not easy the day before Christmas. She had her passport back.

She'd been released to fly to London (not like Dublin that they claimed was the only place they could send her legally, and something denied by the Swiss border police that Julia had contacted to see if there was anything to be done on the Swiss end. There wasn't) and onto Boston after spending the night in a sheetless cell.


If border police treat people like us, normal middle class citizens, that way how do they treat others? I can imagine the immigrants taken in the US by ICE and locked up for days, weeks, months with no access to the outside and no one to help them and no legal rights.

If we hadn't been there to help, if there wasn't money for her ticket, what would have happened to her? 

We know if we hadn't picked up her luggage it would have been destroyed.

If the consulate hadn't called what would have happened?

Radisson Blu Dublin backed off the charge. It is not about the money but unnecessary aggravation caused by a series of errors.

If we'd known she'd had been banned we would have stayed in Dublin.

Current situation

What is written above, is about half of what happened.

Llara is back in Boston and will head to VA and try and salvage her holiday with a good friend.

Rick and I moved Christmas to Saturday, but did the things with friends that had been pre-planned.

We will appeal the ban.

More on the subject

Rick's blog on the situation. He was wonderful throughout. His love and support on all occasions is why I love him.

Julia's blog should be up sometime on the 26th.  Her help and support were incredible which is why I love her as a dear, dear friend.

Llara's handling of it all makes me so proud of her.

As horrible as this Christmas was at the same time, my friends and family are a gift beyond measure.


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