Photo: Moyan Brenn
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Student stuffed in Turkey

International student stranded after his passport was stolen

By Jamie McKay

One of Cardiff University’s international students has returned to the city after spending weeks stuck in Turkey, unable to get back to the UK.

Wan Norhelmi Ajmal, a Law student originally from Malaysia, travelled to Istanbul with a group of friends at the end of March on a trip that was meant to last just three days. However, Ajmal’s accommodation was broken into and his passport and phone stolen.

The Malaysian High Commission were quick in sending Mr Ajmal an Emergency Travel Document, issued to Malaysian citizens whose passports expire or are lost or stolen whilst abroad.

The document should allow citizens to return to Malaysia but many states across Europe and Asia do not recognise it. Among those states is Turkey, and as the group were ready to board the plane back to the UK, Mr Ajmal was turned back.

Speaking to Gair Rhydd, Mr Ajmal said: “The flight supervisor didn’t let me onto the flight because the replacement passport – AKA emergency certificate passport – didn’t have the same functionality with the original passport.”

After contacting officials at Cardiff University, Mr Ajmal was quickly sent documentation that proved he was a student at the Welsh capital. However, flight staff in Istanbul refused to accept this as proof of a UK visa, and would not let him board a plane back to the UK.

Officials told Ajmal that he would need to reapply for a UK visa from the British embassy in Turkey in order to return to his country of study – a process which can take months.

Mr Ajmal was able to stay with friends in Istanbul while his application for a new visa was being processed, however he was told that he would be unable to be given a new visa due to him not possessing the correct documentation.

While Malaysian nationals are able to use their Emergency Travel Document as a one-way ticket back to Malaysia, they may not use it to travel to other countries. This meant that Mr Ajmal was forced to fly ten hours from Istanbul to Malaysia, where he could acquire a new passport and therefore a new UK visa. He then had to board a 13-hour flight black to London, where he took a coach to Cardiff.

This journey was not only long, but extremely expensive for the Cardiff University student, who said: “The reason I wanted to go straight back to UK is because I don’t want to waste money. I spent almost £600 for the ticket from Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur and from there to London. For a student I believe that’s a lot of money.”

Mr Ajmal landed back in Britain on the 22nd of last month, weeks later than originally expected. Though those documents provided were not enough to convince flight staff, he states “I’m very grateful that the University did help me by sending me documents stating that I’m a student here”.

Mr Ajmal has urged fellow students who are planning to travel during the summer to take extra care to ensure that their possessions are safe, saying: “I don’t want students to be in the same situation as me in the future”.

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