The family of an elderly Jewish couple from London have told of their parents’ “complete nightmare” after South African authorities banned them from entering the country, leaving them stranded on a ship.
Joan and Alex Klein, aged 89 and 93 respectively, were on a trip-of-a-lifetime cruise when immigration officials detained the Hampstead Garden Suburb couple in Cape Town.
Like all passengers, the couple submitted their passports with South African authorities when the ship docked, but to their surprise and shock officials soon boarded the Crystal Symphony to question them about a missing exit stamp.
Daughter Diane said: “They accused my parents of illegally remaining in South Africa for the last 649 days and issued them with a declaration of ‘foreigner,’ meaning undesirable person, banning them from entering the country for five years, effective immediately.”
Authorities refused to look at the couple’s visas and passport stamps showing how they had been travelling in and out of the UK for the past two years, and – having banned them from entering the country – the pair were now faced with no way of flying back to the UK.
“It left them stranded,” she said, confirming that her Vienna-born dad – who fled the Nazis on the Kindertransport – has a degenerative eye condition.
“They could prove irrevocably that they hadn’t been illegally residing in South Africa, so it was a preposterous suggestion for immigration to make,” said the couple’s other daughter, Michelle.
“It has caused them unnecessary distress when they are far away from their family and friends in a foreign country on what is suppose to be a trip of a lifetime. It turned into a complete nightmare.”
The couple were forced to stay on the ship but not disembark as Crystal staff frantically liaised with port authorities, the British Consulate and family members back home.
Finally a flight out of Namibia was arranged, at the cost of £9,000, and after three connections and almost 24 hours travelling, the couple finally touched down in London on Thursday morning.
“They’re shaken up and exhausted,” said Diane, who praised the cruise line for their efforts. “It put a major dampener on their holiday and they found it extremely stressful not knowing how they were going to get home.
“They had to cancel flights, hotels and bookings, then to have to get three connecting flights home at their age, it was just horrendous, and all because of a mistake from the very same immigration authorities who didn’t issue an exit stamp in 2014.”