Traveller detained, told NZ is part of Australia

AN intrepid traveller was detained in Kazakhstan after immigration officials refused to acknowledge her Kiwi passport, telling her New Zealand was a state of Australia.

Chloe Phillips-Harris, 28, had travelled many times to central Asia, and arrived at Almaty Airport in Kazakhstan in May to work on farms and explore the rugged terrain.

Phillips-Harris told the Herald she prepared for the trip by consulting with the New Zealand embassy, who assured her she'd be able to enter the country on her Kiwi passport.

"I landed in Kazakhstan on the last flight of the night, and I got to an immigration booth and they asked me for an Australian passport, and told me I couldn't come in without an Australian passport.

"They said New Zealand's clearly a part of Australia."

Barred from entering the country, Phillips-Harris was told she'd have to board a flight to China.

"They chucked me on a plane but luckily I knew someone who could help, in those countries it's all about who you know, and so I got off the plane but by that stage I'd raised lots of alarm bells and way too many people got involved," she said.

Phillips-Harris was taken to a tiny interrogation room where there was a large map of the world stuck up on the wall, one that did not include New Zealand, meaning she couldn't point out where she was from.

"They wanted to know why I was there, they wanted to know why I had taken a direct flight from New Zealand, what I was doing in Kazakshtan.

"Plain-clothes policemen got involved, immigration police got involved, airport officials got involved ... and at that stage it was a bit late to bribe my way out, which apparently is what I was supposed to do from the beginning, but being a New Zealander we're not familiar with that."

After being interrogated for hours she was locked in a guard room for a day and a half.

"It was an empty room with a bed basically. I didn't get any food or water but in the middle of the night they guards clearly felt sorry for me so once immigration police and everyone had gone, the guards would sneak me a drink.

"They had a half-drunk bottle of 7 Up. They did this thing of pouring it into two glasses and one of them drank one glass to show it was safe to drink.

"The guards were really nice and let me wander around the immigration room as long as they were no flights coming in, and if there was a flight they would just shoo me back into the room."

Phillips-Harris said she has "travelled a bit off the beaten path before", but has never experienced anything like her misadventure in Kazakhstan.

A new visa, an American passport and a quick exchange of cash meant she was able to escape her temporary accommodation.

"The people I knew in Kazakhstan got me a new type of visa and paid the right people and got me out, that's probably the easiest explanation.

"I think there was no better feeling than walking out of the airport, and I think you do worry because you hear disaster stories about people just disappearing and that part of the world is pretty notorious for its corruption."

She ended up staying in Kazakhstan for six months before returning home to the Bay of Islands three weeks ago.

The allure of Kazakhstan's growing economy and spectacular mountain ranges means Phillips-Harris is keen to head back, despite the frosty reception she received on her first visit. She plans to travel to Mongolia and Greenland next year.

"[Kazakhstan] is changing very fast, there's a huge amount of potential over there.

"It is corrupt and there are problems there but there are a lot of good people there too, it's just a beautiful country to be in. It's just really unfortunate there was a world map that didn't have New Zealand on it.

A spokesman from the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Herald it was "aware of the case, and a consular official has been in touch with family in New Zealand".

"The case has been resolved," he said.

The Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.

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