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When Luis Velasco decided to make a quick stop in Brazil to visit his brother on his way from Bolivia to Ireland, he hadn’t imagined getting stranded.

On a Zoom call last Tuesday, Velasco read from a piece of paper a summary of what had happened to him at Guarulhos Airport in São Paulo.

On 7 April, when he checked in his luggage, staff at Dutch airline KLM’s desk looked over his documents, including his proof of enrolment in an English language course and payment of its tuition fees.

But they didn’t let him board his flight to Ireland, he says.

“She asked me to show her documentation that I have accommodation for the entire duration of my stay in Ireland,” said Velasco, who was still at his brother’s house in Campinas in southeast Brazil.

He told the staffer that he’d only found accommodation for a month and planned to search later for a longer-term rental. The English language school had accepted that, said Velasco.

“She told me that Bolivians were required to have accommodation for as long as they were going to be,” said Velasco.

Velasco is not alone. Other Bolivian citizens trying to fly to Dublin with KLM or German airline Lufthansa in recent weeks have reported stressful checks at airports, with staff demanding proof of accommodation for the entirety of their stays.

They have missed flights, lost money and, in Velasco’s case, found themselves stranded halfway through a trip.

Who Decides?

From January 2022 to March 2023, 181 Bolivian citizens were refused leave to land at Dublin Airport, according to the Department of Justice figures.

Every time that happens, airlines can be fined up to €3,000 by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) for flying in passengers that, in the view of a border control officer, didn’t have their documents in order.

To avoid that, airline staff may sometimes act as a kind of outsourced – and less accountable – form of immigration control.

Spokespeople for KLM and Lufthansa have not responded to queries sent last Wednesday, including why they have been stopping Dublin-bound Bolivian passengers.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that visa rules for Bolivian citizens had stayed the same but that sometimes airline staff may contact its Border Management Unit (BMU) for advice on the admissibility of a passenger, regardless of their nationality.

It does offer advice, but airlines make the final call on whether to allow passengers to board, the spokesperson said. “Refusals of boarding made by an Airline are not a refusal of permission to land in accordance with Section 4 of the Immigration Act 2004,” they said.

Gabriela Burnett, the president of the Association of Bolivian Residents in Ireland, said the organisation wants clarity about immigration rules for Bolivian citizens.

“Why airlines are saying they have orders from Irish immigration to deny entry to Bolivian English language students in what would appear to constitute discriminatory treatment?” she said.

Expensive Travels

“In recent weeks, the Association of Bolivian Residents in Ireland has become aware of an increasing number of Bolivian citizens not being allowed by airlines to board flights to Ireland,” says Burnett.

The people who contacted them had their papers in order but were denied boarding flights by airlines anyway, she said.

Bolivian citizens don’t need a visa to travel to Ireland.

If someone comes here from a visa-free country, checking things like the length of their accommodation contract and whether that’s suitable is up to border guards, says Wendy Lyon, partner and solicitor at Abbey Law.

“I don’t see how that’s a matter for KLM,” she said.

In 2022, GNIB received €1.1 million in carrier liability fines, according to its official figures.

But the Gardaí doesn’t say how much it has fined individual airlines. “An Garda Síochána does not provide details on individual or named companies,” said a garda spokesperson.

The Council of Europe has, in the past, raised concerns that the threat of financial sanctions can transfer immigration control duties to untrained airline staff.

Last June, Ryanair asked South African citizens travelling to the United Kingdom and Ireland to prove their South African-ness by taking a common knowledge test about the country in Afrikaans, a language not spoken by all its citizens.

A spokesperson for Ryanair said at the time that it was facing a fine of up to £2,000 per passenger from the UK’s Home Office if it let people with fake documents board its planes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that over 99 percent of travellers get the green light from the BMU to cross the border under different legal mechanisms.

“In a small minority of cases, a person may be refused leave to land for lawful reasons and are provided with a notice informing them of the reason(s) for the refusal,” they said.

In most cases, they are put on a flight back to where they flew from on the same day, the spokesperson said.

Velasco, the student flying from Brazil, stayed with his brother for a week and had to remotely book accommodation for eight months to be allowed on a plane to Dublin, he said on Sunday.

Burnett, the president of the Association of Bolivian Residents, says that among those who have contacted the organisation for help, some people couldn’t board flights to Ireland even after renting accommodation for eight months upfront amid an affordable housing crisis, as they faced other demands from airlines.

For example, they took issue with the date of their return flights, she said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that those travelling from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) to study in Ireland must have proof of enrolment in a course, payment of its tuition fees and private medical and travel insurance for the duration of their stay.

“Non Visa required nationals must also prove that they can support themselves financially after they arrive here,” they said. They didn’t mention accommodation, though.

Working Around

Some Bolivian passengers stopped from boarding their flights by airline staff have opted to switch airlines and book new tickets.

Like Stefany Almanza and her husband Luis Justiniano – who had planned to travel to Dublin by way of Panama and Amsterdam.

On 30 March, KLM staff stopped them in Panama.

A staff member told them that their documents needed to be verified and because of that, they would miss their flights, said Almanza last Tuesday.

After about 40 minutes, Almanza said, they returned to the KLM desk to check on progress. The staff they had been dealing with had clocked out for the day, she says.

Stefany Almanza and Luis Justiniano. Photo by Shamim Malekmian.

“They left us waiting and left, leaving us practically kidnapped in the airport because our boarding passes were not returned to us,” said Almanza in a WhatsApp message last Tuesday.

Not having their boarding passes meant they had difficulty accessing the airport’s VIP lounge for a restful overnight stay, they said.

When the couple checked in with KLM staff in the morning, they were told they needed to show proof of accommodation for the duration of the language course.

Almanza and Justiniano had rented a studio for two weeks in Sandymount for €1,500. They were planning to look for longer-term rental during those two weeks, they said.

The couple recorded this conversation with KLM workers.

According to the audio – which was independently translated from Spanish – Justiniano says they can’t find a place to rent long-term and pay for it from abroad. They may end up getting scammed, he says.

“I have to inform myself of everything, and I cannot be [..] here reserving a room or paying for a house without knowing what the owner is like,” he says.

They say they have sent emails to places like immigration control in Dublin and the Bolivian embassy in London. They have all said they don’t need visas for Ireland, Justiniano relays.

But the airline worker says they must have accommodation for eight months, according to the recording.

At one point, the staffer says they have to check with Dutch immigration authorities, and Justiniano replies that he’d already contacted immigration officers in Ireland.

The airline worker says if they allow a passenger without “full authorisation” to board a flight, and border guards in Dublin turn them away, “the airline is fined”.

Almanza and Justiniano gave up.

They swallowed all the costs and booked a flight to Dublin with Turkish Airlines and travelled via Istanbul, they said on Friday morning, sat at the dining table of their short-term rental in Sandymount.

Following Orders?

Lufthansa staff stopped Jose Miguel Cusi Marca twice on his way to Dublin. Once in Bogotá in Colombia and once in Frankfurt in Germany.

For Marca, the Frankfurt encounter with Lufthansa staff felt the more stressful of the two.

“They were only speaking in German and English,” he said on Saturday through an interpreter.

Marca says a Lufthansa staffer said that they had phoned Irish immigration officials and were following their instructions.

“NO GO by immigration DUB,” says a biro note on Marca’s boarding pass.

He said they told him to show proof of accommodation for the whole eight months, said Marca, through the interpreter, sitting at a café in Smithfield.

He had eventually made it to Ireland. At first, he had booked a return ticket for eight months from April when his language course ended, and Lufthansa staff wouldn’t accept that.

He managed to board a flight to Frankfurt from Bogotá by changing the date of his return ticket to three months from now instead, he said.

In Frankfurt, he cobbled together email after email from all the organisations he had contacted for help until Lufthansa staff relented.

In Dublin, a BMU officer let him through, no problem, he said. “He was very fun, he was trying to make jokes,” said Marca via the interpreter.

Burnett, the president of the Association of Bolivian Residents in Ireland, says that if people are stuck in emergency situations, they can contact the Bolivian consulate in London at and let them know too by emailing them at

Marca said that some belongings, including clothes and medicine, were missing from his luggage. But, intimidated, he didn’t file a report with Lufthansa.

“I [thought], I’m just going to go out and have some peace now after all the ordeal I’ve been through. That’s all I want to have, some peace,” he said through the interpreter.

Like Burnett, Marca says he feels the airlines are discriminating against Bolivians, that they are being targeted. “Yes, just for being Bolivian,” he said.

Shamim Malekmian

Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at

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