Read The Emotional Narrative Of Gross Human Rights Abuse, Stigma And Discrimination Experienced By Souhaila Bensaid, An Openly Positive Tunisian Activist On Her Way To A UNAIDS Organised HIV Event In New York Enroute Orly, France.
Souhaila Bensaid, is President of the Tunisian Association for Positive Prevention, representative of the MENA region, ICW International and representative of PLHIV and key populations in Tunisia CCM.
I was invited to attend the High Level Meeting, and to speak about people in the MENA region. As a speaker, I was invited by UNAIDS, who provided me with the plane ticket for Tunis Carthage -Paris Orly, Paris Orly – NY JFK.
In Tunisia, I was not been banned last night from traveling, as I have a visa for the US, but I have no shenguen visa. I will not deny that I have never thought about applying for a shenguen visa because, generally, even if in one of the airport they ask me for shenguen a visa, I do it on site, and I have never considered going on vacation in Europe. In short, I lived last night, the night of a prisoner who has committed a crime, not the night of an activist, who goes to a far away country, to defend the rights of her people. I was treated badly, and I did not even have a minimum of information from the customs officials. In Orly, I really suffered, and I did not sleep all night because I experienced harassment in my rights as a human being, not to say anything else.
How am I supposed to know that Orly airport does not work at night and that I needed a transit visa. Once there, I requested a transit visa, and they said no, we can’t do that, and the airline will have to pay a fine. I told them it was not for me to suffer for the mistakes of the airline, but, that I needed to travel tomorrow morning to the USA, to attend this important meeting, and I asked them for a solution,
First of all they put me in a waiting room, two policemen came to see me and told me I needed to sign some papers. I told them the most important is for me to leave for New York tomorrow. I will admit, I trusted them, this is the French state, I thought they are good people, they will not harm me. I signed the 8 papers and I asked them if I would have problems in the future to get a Shenguen visa. They told me no. I trusted them. I went back to the waiting room, a policewoman came, looked through my suitcase, and I said Ok, it’s normal, it’s for security. Then she asked me if I had any medicines, I said yes, I am HIV positive and I must have my medicines with me as I need to take them on time, and three other medicines for opportunistic infections (allergica, truvada, artelac and another drug) plus of course vitamin C and paracetemol just in case for prevention. She took my medicines and told me that it was just to check them out. I said OK, but then I did not seem them back until the hotel and I only was allowed to take the quantity I needed.
After that, they told me I had to go to a hotel and I had to go and see a doctor. I said take me to the hotel, I don’t need to see a doctor, I am in good health. Furthermore, I am the one who shows how to take ARVs to positive people and explain how you need to have them in your handbag when you travel.
We went to the infirmary, or something like that, at the airport. The nurse called me to her office and without telling me what she was going to do or explaining why, she did a rapid test to measure my glycemia, my blood pressure et put some machine to my ear. Then I got in to see the doctor and I asked him: excuse me but what is this all for. He told me it was procedures to find out if I was taking any dangerous medicines. I told him that I was not aware that there were dangerous medicines, only curative medicines. He paused a little and told me it was for Malaria. I told him I did not have malaria. Anyway, it’s always the procedure. I asked him to give me a paper, proving I had a consultation, he pretended not to hear me and when I went out he gave my medicines bag to the policemen, who brought me back, but who were very nice with me.
At the hotel, we entered through the reception door but we did not go up by the front lift, instead we went up by another lift, which looked like a service lift or emergency lift. We went up to the fourth floor. On the fourth floor, two policemen were waiting, one man and one woman, each one seating down on a chair. I was standing up, without the key to the door to the bedroom, without my passport, without my medicines, nothing. I heard the policeman asking the policewoman to go into the room to see if it could be closed form the inside or not. She went in, tried the door then they asked me to go in. I asked for my medicines. They ask me to take the doses I needed, without even giving me some water, or something to eat. Nothing. Furthermore they did not allow me to keep my eye drops, which I need to use every 15minutes or so as I have no tears, I see very badly. I shut the door, they did not give me any keys and I understood that something was not right and I was angry. At the same time, I had no information, nothing at all.
Three times during the night, the door opened, and as I did not close my eyes all night, I saw a policeman came in, not even a woman, to see if I was there or not. They did not even respect the fact that I was a woman and needed some privacy. I had it in my head that the day after I would take the plane for New York City so at 6 am, so I told myself that I was at least going to go out and have breakfast. Have some orange juice and eat something as I was really starving. I found the police officers sitting down and looking at me, looking surprised and asking with their eyes how come I came out of the bedroom. At 6.30 I went out, in time to go to the airport as they told me a shuttle would pick me up in the morning. I saw other people in front of the doors and the police and I believed they were going to be deported. It was not a shuttle, it was a police car, we came out by a different door than the one we came in, where the bins were kept. Once at the airport, we went in a room, there was an office with lawyers and organisations, but all were closed. Nobody told me anything, even if other people were being deported, I had not done anything to be deported. No-one had consulted me, or informed me of anything or telling me about procedures. A policeman was sitting down, so I asked him when I was going to take my plane. He told me he did not know, and that they would come to pick me up in a while. So I said: then they are going to come and pick me up to take me to the other terminal to take the plane to New York. Two policemen came, they are always by two, but this time they were two men, we were in a corridor. I said is it far yet, because I thought we needed to take a car to the other terminal, they told me no, it’s just here and I found myself in front of the gate for Tunissair. I did not understand anything, and still no explanation, until the person in charge, chocked at first when she saw me said: It’s you? That’s incredible! They put me in the plane back to Tunis.
What do you think? I would like to ask for your advice as to what to do as I am really in chock, feeling really sick about this. I came home as a deportee, I had to have a medical exam without my consent, with no one asking for my opinion. Not a thing to eat, not being authorised to keep the medicines I have to take for life. My dignity as a woman and as a person living with HIV has been violated and what kind of human rights are they talking about. They have violated all of my human rights.
I trained and qualified in international business and at some point I might want to open an import-export business. What will I do then? All my future is based on this. Even if they tell me they will lift the interdiction to travel I might have signed without knowing when I signed these papers, what will assure me that they will remove this from their database? I have lost my trust. A viable solution needs to be found. I have a 10 years visa for the US, I have never overstayed during any of my trips. Why would I want to do this in Europe and without having the right papers?