Three young backpackers from Texas were refused entry into Ireland last week - putting paid to their dream of a six-month trip across Europe.
To add insult to injury, they had to pay $1,900 each to fly back to the U.S.
Colin Zwirko, 21, and his two friends Gavin Sides, 19, and Ben Whitehurst, 21, had been saving for their trip for a year.
They planned to spend a week or so in Ireland and head on to Europe.
Zwirko had sold his car for $7,250 and saved up another $3,000 from his job as a bank teller while Sides and Whitehurst had roughly the same amount of money tucked away,
The three men, all from the Dallas/Forth Worth area, picked Ireland as their first stop as it was the nearest country to the U.S.
At least that was the plan when they left Dallas on Wednesday, July 2.
Zwirko, said “a stern, cold-faced, immigration officer” in Dublin refused the three entry into Ireland because she didn’t believe their story.
Speaking from a friend's house in New Jersey, Zwirko said he was furious that their trip had been ruined.
The boys were unconcerned as they walked up to the immigration desk in Dublin. None of them had ever traveled to Ireland before and none has a criminal record.
“Ben and I were in one line and Gavin went to another," said Zirko. "The man that Gavin encountered at the booth was nice and according to him, just asked him how long he'd be staying.”
“Gavin said under two weeks and the officer said that was all right and was nearly through with him.”
Meanwhile, the officer questioning Whitehurst asked where his companions were when he said he was traveling with two friends.
“She began asking us questions such as where we'd be staying and what our intentions were.”
None of the three was able to complete the part on the immigration form that required an address.
They said they met a guy online through couchsurfing.com (a Website designed to connect travelers with members of local communities who offer free accommodation) and although they didn’t know where he lived, they had his phone number.
As the Texas men were being questioned, Zwirko said that almost 150 passengers from the flight they had arrived on “blew through the line” in front of them.
Unhappy with the answers she was getting from Zwirko and his friends, the immigration officer asked them who the man they were staying with was.
“I answered that I met him on the Internet, I don't know him. She asked me twice more, ‘Who is he?’ in a stern, cold tone. The third time, I answered with confusion, ‘A person'?"
Confused and getting slightly agitated that their welcome in Ireland was very hostile, the friends waited about 30 minutes. Then they were questioned again individually.
They were asked to show their bank statements, but the they didn’t have them. Zwirko offered to show his online bank statements on his laptop, but reportedly, immigration officials refused to look at the screen.
Another 15 minutes passed. The boys were then escorted to a lock-up and told they were denied entry into Ireland.
Heartbroken and disgusted, Zwirko and his friends could not believe what was happening to them. They were told they would have to go back to the U.S. immediately.
When Zwirko demanded an explanation of why they were being denied entry he was just told that the officer didn’t like their story.
“I can only gather that because of the two reasons stated, she believed, somehow, illogically at best, that we were entering indefinitely in order to gain illegal jobs and perform other criminal acts,” he said.
The Garda (Irish police), which oversees Ireland’s immigrations agency, has since released a statement saying that U.S. citizens are rarely denied entry because "the vast majority of persons traveling to Ireland are aware of the requirements of the immigration authorities before undertaking their journey to this country."
Now back in the U.S. and down close to $4,000, Zwirko and his friends are fuming.
When the boys were put back on a plane bound for the U.S., Zwirko said he felt extremely sad.
“Below I could see the green fields and the countryside and I knew there and then we would never get to experience it,” he said.
For now the friends’ trip is at a standstill.
Tourism Ireland has responded to the incident with concern, and has requested an expedited investigation.
A spokeswoman for Ireland’s tourist board, Sinead Grace, stated: "Ireland's reputation as a friendly and welcoming place is extremely important and not to be taken for granted.”
Detective Superintendent Tom Dixon of Dublin Airport Immigration said his department was investigating the matter.
“We have just received this complaint and I’m going to have it investigated immediately. I shall issue a report when I have the matter investigated.”
Asked if it was unusual for airport immigration officers to refuse entry to U.S. citizens Dixon replied, “I have to investigate first."