By Niña Calleja |Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines–For more than three months now, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 3 has been a home for Liberian nurse Henry Lewis.
Unlike other foreign travelers well-dressed for their flights, Lewis was simply sitting Thursday on a chair by the door with a sign “Exclusion Room.”
He appeared homely in his outfit—a T-shirt, a pair of shorts and slippers.The door was the only spot where his phone could get a WiFi signal.
On the average, the airport terminal keeps at least four travelers on a temporary basis in a month, immigration officials said. But their longest stay would only be two to three days before they hop on to their next flight en route back to their home countries.
The exclusion room, a nine-door area, is designated by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for passengers who have been denied entry to the Philippines for various reasons.
But Lewis is not the usual “excluded” passenger because he has been practically living at Naia 3 since June 2, 2014—exactly 112 days ago.
From Ebola country
“No, I don’t feel like a prisoner here. I have WiFi. I can communicate with friends and family,” said Lewis, 28.
Lewis is a nurse in his home country Liberia, in West Africa, which has been battling against the biggest Ebola outbreak in history.
Lewis, however, cannot freely roam around the terminal without airport security personnel trailing him.
His food and other personal needs are usually bought by the personnel of the Manila International Airport Authority and the air carrier which flew him into the country.
Barred in South Korea
Lewis had been a tourist in the Philippines for a year before he flew to Incheon in South Korea on May 31, 2014, via AirAsia Zest, Mary Ann Velasco, head of the BI team at Naia 3, told the Inquirer.
“But in Incheon, he was denied entry for a reason we weren’t told,” Velasco said.
Lewis apparently has an immigration record in South Korea, making him unwanted in that country.
Also on PH blacklist
Under immigration rules, the man has to be brought back to his point of origin while a one-way flight to his home country is being arranged, the immigration official said.
On June 2, Lewis was flown by AirAsia Zest back to Manila.
He could not leave the airport, however, since he had also been put on the BI blacklist.
“He has no criminal record but he has no money or a legitimate sponsor for him to stay in the country,” Velasco said.
“If we allow his return to the country, he’d just be a burden,” she added.
Airline answers his needs
The Liberian man’s food and basic needs have been shouldered by the airline for three and a half months now.
He has a room in the exclusion area on the second floor of Naia 3. He is also free to use a common toilet in the area.
“For humanitarian reasons, we have been taking care of his needs,” said Jenny Tan, spokesperson of the budget carrier AirAsia Zest.
“But just to be clear, we give him food and whatever he needs daily. No cash. But we are willing to pay for his ticket (back to his country),” Tan said.
Like in movie ‘The Terminal’
What puzzles the company is why other airlines with flights to Liberia refuse to take him on board.
“All the airlines we had asked to bring him home declined. We were not told of the reason,” Tan said, noting that AirAsia Zest has no direct flights to Liberia.
But Tan said the airline and airport staff had been good to Lewis because “he seems kind and friendly.”
“He has befriended our staff. It’s funny how it is so similar to the movie ‘The Terminal,’” Tan quipped.
“The Terminal” is a movie starring Tom Hanks about a man who is trapped at New York City’s JFK International Airport after he is denied entry to the United States, and could not go back to his home country besieged by civil war.
“We are asking the help of the Liberian Embassy in Manila. We have sent an e-mail but there is still no reply,” Tan said.
The African man’s only hope is to be given a plane ticket home and be allowed to board the next plane.
“I just want to get my passport [from the airline] and go home. I have done nothing wrong,” Lewis said.