Canadians stranded at UAE airport after visa confusion

ASSOCIATED PRESS, 22-01-2011 11:18:32

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TORONTO - Two Canadians have been caught in the crosshairs of the deepening diplomatic spat between Ottawa and the U.A.E.


Darius Mosun and his business partner were stranded at Abu Dhabi airport for more than 15 hours Friday when confusion over newly imposed visa requirements prevented them from entering the U.A.E.


"It was a surprise for us," an exhausted Mosun told The Canadian Press.


New visa requirements were imposed on Canadian travellers in January after relations between Ottawa and the U.A.E. deteriorated over a commercial landing-rights dispute.


Ottawa has refused to increase landing rights for the Persian Gulf country’s two major airlines, which are currently allowed only three flights a week to Toronto.


The U.A.E. announced in October that it was evicting Canada from Camp Mirage, which had been an important staging ground for the military mission in Afghanistan. And three weeks ago it imposed the new visa requirements which cost Canadians between $250 to $1000.


Mosun, 42 said he and his business partner were able to enter the U.A.E. last week with a visa acquired in Canada, but were stopped by customs when they tried to re-enter the country after a side trip to Saudi Arabia.


He said U.A.E. officials told him his visa was only valid for a single entry, even though that rule wasn’t written on the document itself.


"It’s very confusing, I was here a couple of times before, we were so well received, and now it’s like there’s a stain on our passports when we arrived."


Mosun said Canadians like himself were being singled out at immigration counters for additional screening which included retina-scans.


"It’s clearly discrimination," claimed Mosun, who missed a meeting with an important potential client and now worries about the impact of the diplomatic spat on his business.


"If an exporter is trying to make a proposal to a U.A.E. client it would be very difficult to say we wouldn’t be viewed lesser than our competitive counterparts from other countries."


Mosun’s firm, Soheil Mosun, is in the architectural fabrication and design business.


It was responsible for the monument unveiled this week at Canada’s Immigration Museum in Halifax to commemorate the nearly 1,000 Jews who were turned away from Canada on the eve of the Second World War.


Mosun has voiced his concerns in letters to International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan and has also written to the Prime Minister’s office, asking that something be done to protect Canadian businesses caught in the diplomatic fray. The U.A.E. is Canada’s 12th largest investor at $4.4 billion.


The Toronto-based businessman doesn’t blame the U.A.E., and said officials at the airport and Etihad Airlines tried to accommodate him as best they could. Ultimately though, the matter appears to be a political one.


The Harper government — despite a major cabinet split on the issue — rejected the U.A.E.’s landing-rights request, saying it did so to protect Air Canada from losing business.


The issue flared again last week when the Gulf News newspaper reported that relations between Canada and the U.A.E. were at an "all time low" following comments Prime Minister Stephen Harper made questioning the reliability of the Arab country as an ally.


The article quoted an unnamed U.A.E. government official who said the U.A.E. deserved an apology from Canada for its "vitriolic attack."


From the perspective of a businessman struggling to find new export markets in a sluggish global economy, Mosun said Harper’s comments had not helped.


"These broad sweeping Clint Eastwood-type one-liners that sound cool in the press, really have dire consequences for the little guy like us. I just think we could have handled it differently."


In the meantime, games of foozball with an airport bartender and countless messages to his worried wife have punctuated the long hours while Mosun waits to board a flight home.


"I’m looking forward to getting on the flight," he said, understating his predicament.

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