I was recently awarded a fellowship by the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) in Germany. After receiving the necessary documentation from my host institution Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS), I proceeded to apply for a German visa on Aug 26.
From the German consulate website, I learned that visa applications are entertained on a first-come, first-serve basis. This meant that I had to reach the consulate in Karachi well before its opening hours and get one of the limited tokens they issue every morning.
No reward for the early bird
A day earlier, I travelled to Karachi from Nawabshah with my wife and two children. The next day, I arrived at the consulate at 5am (three hours before opening time), confident that I would be the first one to get a token.
Much to my dismay, there were several applicants who had arrived much earlier. Nonetheless, I succeeded in getting a token for myself.
Most consulates and embassies in Pakistan have no waiting rooms or seating arrangements for applicants. One has to stand in a huddle in an area barely measuring a few square metres, all the while being treated disparagingly.
The long wait
During the two-and-a-half-hour wait, two out of a dozen security guards kept pointing their guns at us. It reminded me of the movie "World War Z", where zombies are separated from humans and confined to a zombie land.
My children were busy playing during the long wait. Every time, they came close to the security bar, the guards glared at me to rein them in.
In that time, two stray dogs comfortably crossed the barricade and were readily welcomed by the security men. One of the guards gave the dogs food to eat, and then let them rest near the security picket. They were definitely treated better than us.
Five minutes before its opening time, the consulate's staff members began to emerge in big vehicles. The guards yelled at us to stand against the walls to make way for them. Security was on high alert and guns were pulled out.
Oblivious to everything, my kids continued to play. One guard shouted at me to hold on to them, lest they hinder the movement of the staffers. I felt like my family and I were standing outside an embassy in Baghdad under an imminent threat.
The staffers passed by us in their cars, giving us disdainful looks. They did not look like the same considerate Germans I had lived with during my five-year stay in Europe. Their looks made us feel like we are an inferior rabble, although they did smile at the stray dogs with affection.
When they entered the consulate, we were ordered to form a queue in front of the security bar. A tall, well-built German security guard, who appeared by his demeanour to be superior to the others, came out of nowhere and gave out instructions.
Under the supervision of the German security guard, we were allowed to cross the security bar one by one. During the frisking, I was ordered to make an awkward pose with my legs wide open.
Soon I was cleared, and asked to wait for one more hour till the visa office opened.
The much-awaited application window
Finally we were called in but not before another security check where all our belongings were taken, leaving us with only our application documents. At the security check, I saw a bearded man’s photograph affixed on the wall with the word “Terrorist” written in large font, and a warning which I wasn't able to make out.
After making my way to the visa counter, I handed over my application to a lady receptionist behind a glass window, who was speaking into a microphone.
Before taking my documents, she told me curtly that if my children made any noise, they would be sent out with my wife. I was stung by the tone and wanted to retort that I didn't have control over a 1.5 year-old child but held myself back.
A few minutes later, I found out that my family's application could not be entertained with mine, and that they would have to apply after I reached Germany.
Devastated, I requested to meet with a senior visa officer. The officer's behaviour turned out to be just as disparaging as that shown by the rest of the staff, despite the fact that I was carrying host letters from renowned research institutes in Europe and was applying for a visa solely for research purpose.
I asked him why my case was being handled differently given that many research fellows in Pakistan have been granted family visas for Germany.
He replied with a frown:
"I don’t care if someone has been granted a family visa and I don’t want to confirm either. Do as I say if you want to get a visa or leave."
He left angrily, murmuring something.
Left with no option, I surrendered and gave my application. My family can only apply for a visa after I reach Germany. My wife will have to travel alone with two young children all the way from Nawabshah to Erlangen.
My experience was unpleasant to say the least. Granted that there are many applicants who provide wrong information, forge documents and swindle but that does not justify the dismissive and arrogant attitude of the German consular staff in Karachi.