Two weeks ago, I was going through Colombo and after a few days of enjoying the city, it was time to head back home.
I left quite early, since I anticipated traffic delays with the rather long drive, but instead, my Uber driver did not have enough cash, forcing us to drive on the highway instead of the newly built tollway.
Fortunately, I breezed through security (there are three separate security checks at Colombo airport), and I made my way to immigration, which had no lines. When I provided my passport to the agent, she didn’t even proceed to scan it and immediately asked me to follow her. Clearly, someone was waiting for me!
The agent just dropped me off at a secondary immigration check, and I was left clueless for 20 minutes. Finally, the supervisor talked to me and mentioned that I was ‘on a list’ and that I had to follow yet another agent to the bowels of the airport.
Nobody asked me any questions. My questions were simply answered with a ‘wait…’ Now, the new agent volunteered to tell me that my passport was ‘fake’ and that there was a fax from the British consulate that informed them to hold anyone with ‘such fake passports.’
Fake passports are clearly a problem and stolen passports get re-used by criminals all the time. However, my passport had never been stolen. Of course, every hotel scans my passport (or makes copies), so it is easy for criminals to get their hands on my passport data and use it.
I replied that this can’t be true since I use this passport all the time. I also mentioned that I’ve used it plenty of times at US immigration, using my fingerprints that are tied to the passport data. I also questioned why the UK consulate would have specific information. I could only see the fax from afar, but it certainly did not list more than a dozen different passport numbers. I wasn’t sure if the agents were all too honest with me though.
My flight was snowed in, just 90 minutes from leaving, and the agent was apologetic and promised to do whatever they can to ensure I make that flight.
I requested to speak to the US consulate in Colombo. The agent actually had the number on speed dial (seemingly they call them all the time). I was told that a consulate worker was on the line (it was 10.30 PM now). The worker on the line was quite friendly. However, her English was basic at best, but she promised to check with the State Department after I have provided plenty of reasons why I’m real (and why my passport is real!)
To my surprise, just 15 minutes had passed and she gave the ‘all-clear’ without providing anyone an explanation as to what happened. I went back to secondary for another 10 minutes and was then accompanied by immigration staff who helped me get clearance to board with the Air Asia supervisor (and a bunch of people who seemed to all now work in my favor).
What do I make of this?
Clearly, stolen passports are an issue and so is the safety of passport data in any other country. Every hotel employee can easily sell your passport data on the deep, dark web. It only takes ONE black sheep to create an issue for thousands of travelers. I think that is what happened.
Sri Lankan immigration was courteous, but they were all oddly quiet the whole time I was with them. The story they presented to me kept changing over and over. When I presented my side of the story, it was quickly resolved. However, for about 90 minutes, I was neither asked nor given the opportunity to speak.
I have since used my passport at many different immigration checks, including the US, and it was never an issue.
For now, I avoided the immigration holding cell. Let’s hope it stays that way!