Bad Experience At Czech Checkpoint

It could have been a most memorable two-week holiday by road in Europe for my wife and I if not for an incident at the Czech-Austrian border checkpoint.

On May 2 1993, we left Praha for Linz in Austria after spending two wonderful days there. It was a lovely Sunday morning. We drove south, passing through Ceske Budejovice. The journey, though enjoyable, was uneventful until we reached the checkpoint at the Czech-Austrian border.

We arrive at the checkpoint at about 12.30pm. I showed our Malaysian passports to Czech uniformed personnel at the booth. After examining them, he passed them to another officer. While waiting for our passports to be returned, I parked the car so that I would not cause any delay to other travelers.

After waiting for 10 minutes, an officer came out of the booth with our passports and using "sign language," he asked why my passport had 64 pages and wife 32. I explained in English that I applied for 64-page passport and my wife 32. He appeared dissatisfied as he was unable to understand English, but he took our passports to another office across the booth.

Nothing personal... just doing my duty

We waited for a while and nothing happened. We began to feel anxious and I started to ask a few officers at the booth about our passports but they all ignored me. Feeling desperate, I knocked at the door of the office. The officer who took our passports then came out. I asked in English whether there were problems with our passports. He replied "moment" and shut the door. This happened at every 30 minutes or so.

By about 2pm and after waiting at the checkpoint for more that an hour, we felt hungry and thirsty. There was a duty-free shop about 100 metres away but we were afraid to leave the checkpoint without our passports. So we ate a few biscuits and shared a can of soft drink which my wife bought from a shop nearby.

For over two hours, there was no one willing to communicate with us. We were worried but we remained calm, as we were bona fide travelers.

We remained in our car most of the time. We were, however, lucky as the weather was fine and sunny, I shudder to think what would have happened if it was during winter.

After waiting for more than two hours, they finally decided to do something. A uniformed personnel came out to the car and beckoned me to come out. He then frisked me in full view of all the passing motorists.

After failing to find anything offensive, he again beckoned me to open the car boot and remove all our luggage to their office for examination. The officer also searched my car thoroughly. After this, they left us. Apparently they could not find anything they were looking for either in our luggage or in the car.

We thought our ordeal was finally over and we could now proceed with our journey. But that was not to be. I was then asked to go to their office and empty my pockets. They went through everything, from cash in various currencies, credit cards, receipts, business cards, etc.

They also measured my height and gave me a piece of paper to sign four or five signatures while sitting and standing. They also asked my wife to do the same.

By now it was 3.15pm and again we waited in our car, hoping that having found nothing that was offensive or illegal, they would return our passports and let us go.

Apparently they were still not satisfied and an officer came to our car and asked us to show him our wristwatches. My wife wore a Swiss-made watch while I wore a sports watch costing less than RM100. He took a closer look at my watch and uttered "Japan". I nodded my head and he went back to his office. He returned as short while later and asked me to remove my watch. He took it to the office and returned it to me after 10 minutes.

We again waited in our car and wondered what they would do next. It was 3.40pm, more than three hours after we arrived at this checkpoint that our passports were finally returned to us. No explanation or apology was given as to why they had made us wait for such a long time.

When the officer lifted the gate for our car to pass through, I acknowledged by raising my hand and I waved and smiled. He did not respond immediately as he probably did not expect that from us. As we passed through the gate I could see from the car's side mirror that he had finally raised his hand to bid us farewell!

When we reached our next destination in Austria, we had a close examination of our passports and suspected that attempts could have been made to tamper with them.

In all my years of travel, I have never had such a traumatic encounter with the police or immigration officers of any country. I was appalled with the way the uniformed personnel had treated bona fide travelers like us.

They were uncaring, unfriendly, unsmiling, crude and, to a certain extent, rude. Accepting that they could not communicate with us in English, they could at least be more friendly and try by using "sign language" to explain why our passports were withheld from us for such a long time.

If they had tried to communicate with us, then at least we would have had the opportunity to explain. But to detain us under such situation and for such a long time is inhumane and should not be allowed to happen in any civilised country. 2008