'I am an old man; I am not a dangerous man, so what is the reason for my deportation?'
Former Swiss diplomat Kurt Vogele was deported from India on January 22 abruptly.
No reason was given to him for his deportation by Indian immigration officials who sent him back the day he landed in India.
In India to meet his friend Gagan Sethi, who runs a non-governmental organisation Janvikas in Ahmedabad, Vogele, who headed the Swiss Development Cooperation in the 1990s in India, was only told that he would have to fly back.
The 75-year-old diplomat was taken to a room by the staff of the airline that he flew on and sent back in the same plane that he had arrived.
"I am an old man; I am not a dangerous man, so what is the reason for my deportation?" he says.
Vogele does not think the loan that the Swiss Development Cooperation had given the Navsarjan Trust, that works for upliftment of Dalits in Gujarat, had anything to do with his deportation.
"I would like to know the reason (for my deportation) and I would like to defend my case," Vogele tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore on the phone from Geneva.
Can you tell us what happened?
The immigration officials told me that I had to go back and I cannot enter India.
They took me to an office and they said you will have to go back. I was taken care of by the airline I travelled with.
I asked for my passport, but they did not give it to me in India.
I got my passport after I landed in Geneva on the evening of January 22.
I asked several times for my passport, but they (the immigration officials) did not give it to me.
I left India the same day, in the same plane.
Were you given any reason for your deportation?
No. None. No reason at all.
I asked them several times, but nobody gave any reason.
Why do you think were you deported?
I don't know. You ask Indian officials (laughs).
You wrote a letter to India's ambassador in Switzerland, George Sibi, about what happened to you. Can you share the contents of that letter with us?
No response yet. No response so far.
In the letter I just described my situation. I wrote that I had lived in India for 13 years and India was like my second home.
I was a diplomat in India heading the Swiss Development Cooperation, which had a consular status, and had made friends with many Indians during my stay in India.
I visit these friends regularly.
What was the purpose of your visit in January?
I had come to visit a friend, Gagan Sethi (who runs an NGO Janvikas in Ahmedabad) and other friends as well.
I was visiting India on his invitation and I was supposed to work with him on several issues like behavioural issues and social change.
These were issues we had discussed many times earlier too.
And this visit had no political purpose?
No, not at all. But politics can have a lot of different meanings.
What was Ambassador Sibi's response to your letter?
No response so far. It has been almost three weeks, but there has been no response so far (from Ambassador Sibi).
I sent my letter to him by registered post and I have the acknowledgment to prove that the letter has reached the addressee.
When you obtained you visa in December 2017, were you asked to fulfil any conditions for getting it?
There were no conditions attached to this visa. I was shocked why I was deported.
What would be your message to India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj about the way you were treated?
I would like to know the reason (for my deportation) and I would like to defend my case.
I am an old man; I am not a dangerous man, so what is the reason for my deportation?
I would like them (Indian immigration officials) to refrain from such action in the future.
Do you plan to visit India again?
Yes, if it is possible.
I have been visiting India for years and I would like to visit India again.
Have you written to the Swiss ambassador in India about your deportation?
I forwarded a copy of my letter to the Swiss ambassador in New Delhi, but have not received any response from him yet.
But I will continue to seek clarifications, of which I have none till now, from the Indian authorities.
IMAGE: Cointrin airport, Geneva, published only for representational purposes. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters