German, Canadian authorities falsely arrest, humiliate Israeli traveler, accusing him of being terrorist, carrying fake passport. 'They didn't want to let me into Canada because I'm black,' he says
Ever since he was a little boy growing up in Ethiopia, Yohannes Damka dreamt of traveling the world. He never thought that the dream would soon turn into a humiliating nightmare.
My biggest wish was to see the Niagara Falls, and travel around Canada," he told Ynet. "Not every immigrant from Ethiopia can afford to travel to faraway places, but I set a goal for myself and decided that it's a dream that I have to make come true."
Damka made aliyah in 2000. He worked at a restaurant in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion and saved for the coveted trip. A few weeks ago he was finally able to buy a $1,500 ticket for a Lufthansa flight to Vancouver, with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany.
Excited and full of expectations, he left for Canada on march 21. When he reached Frankfurt, however, things started to go wrong. Before he could board his connecting flight, he was picked up by the German border police on suspicion that he was carrying a fake passport, and was not, in fact, an Israeli citizen.
Damka said that an officer stopped him and started asking him questions in an accent that he did not understand. After being questioned for 30 minutes, he was allowed to board the flight to Canada. The officer took Damka's passport and gave it to the flight crew, warning him that the document was thought to be fake.
Damka thought that the abusive experience was behind him, and that his passport will be returned to him once they land. But the trouble was not over yet. Upon arriving in Vancouver, he was greeted by four security guards who cuffed his hands and feet and took him in for questioning.
"They caught me like a common criminal and cuffed me in front of everyone," he said. "They lead me to a tiny, empty room, and did a full-body strip search. After that, they questioned me for eight hours."
Damka noted that he demanded to speak with the Israeli consulate, but his pleas went unanswered. "No matter what I said, nothing helped," he said.
He did not reach Niagara Falls; on the next day, he was put on a plane back to Frankfurt. The Canadian authorities confiscated his passport and all other identification.
'She called out Juden, Juden'
When he returned to Germany, he was cuffed once again, and escorted into a questioning room - this time on suspicion that he was a member of a terrorist organization.
"They strip-searched me again," Damka recounted the horror. "The whole time they told me that I better tell them what terrorist organization I belong to, otherwise it will get worse."
At one point, one of the investigators called out "Juden, Juden" and then made a noise of disgust. "I was furious," Damka said. "Four cops had to hold me back from hurting her."
Once again, he demanded the investigators to get in touch with the Israeli consulate, but no avail. After five hours, they brought in a translator, who decided to call Damka's boss, retrieving the phone number from the cell phone that the cops confiscated earlier.
It appeared that the conversation helped, because the investigators toned down their behavior. Eight hours later, he was allowed to board a plane back to Israel.
"I arrived without any documents, but the Interior Ministry officials told me that there must have been a mistake, and that once my passport arrives back from Canada, it will be sent back to me," Damka said. "I have yet to receive it."
'I will never set foot in Germany'
Now that he is back, humiliated and disappointed, Damka is suing the Canadian and German authorities for damages.
"All I wanted was to travel and see the world," he said. "If they didn't want to let me into Canada because I'm black, they should have just said so. But to say that I'm not Jewish and not Israeli, that my passport is fake? And the Germans… I will never again set foot in Germany. It was horrible. I am still in shock.
"They treated me in a very humiliating way," he added. "Even if my identification card was fake, and I wasn't Israeli, they cannot treat a human being like that. I will prove that they were wrong."
Responding to the accusations, the Canadian Embassy said that Damka's account did not match the information put forth by the Canadian Border Service Agency. It was also noted that anyone who wishes to enter Canada must fit a certain criteria