ABU DHABI // Dozens of Pakistanis are trapped in the UAE because of a bureaucratic catch-22 that leaves them without valid passports or the means to get them.
They are unable to renew their passports because of issues with their Pakistani national identity cards, which can only be rectified in person, in Pakistan. But without a valid passport, they cannot get there.
Khanbaz Gul is one of the trapped workers. He went to the Pakistan Embassy in Abu Dhabi last week to apply for a new machine-readable passport, only to be told that the National Database & Registration Authority (Nadra) showed that two ID cards had been issued in his name - a problem of which he was previously unaware.
He blames the Pakistani issuing office in Peshawar for the error, which happened several years ago. "I asked them to cancel the other card, but the embassy is now asking for a police report," said Mr Gul, who works as a labourer at Ghantoot Construction Company. "I don't have the means to deal with this."
Jan Wazir, from the northern Swat region of Pakistan, is in a similar position.
He lost his ID card six years ago, and applied for another. But the new card was issued with a different number, and because he did not file a police report at the time the old one remains in the system.
The two cards have different numbers, both linked to the number of his old passport, which expired in February 2010.
"It's not my mistake that my ID numbers are different," said Mr Wazir, who does odd jobs for a construction contractor.
An officer at the embassy explained that some people have multiple ID numbers because of slip-ups before Nadra was set up. The embassy sees up to 10 similar cases each month.
Now the database is fully computerised, the profiles of all those who have duplicate cards or have been issued two different numbers have been locked, preventing them renewing their passports.
Mr Gul should have surrendered the duplicate, if he had one, when he received his computerised card. Similarly, Mr Wazir should have rectified the error. But both men are uneducated; Mr Wazir uses his thumbprint instead of a signature.
Unable to leave the country to resolve the problem in Pakistan in person, Mr Wazir's only option is to have a family member get a copy of his old ID card in order to file a police report.
That is unlikely to be easy, with Pakistani bureaucracy seldom making it straightforward.
Written instructions are difficult to understand, so progress is unlikely unless someone at the under-staffed Pakistani mission finds time to explain.
The Pakistan ambassador, Jamil Khan, says he is working to set up an information desk to help his countrymen. For now, however, that sort of assistance remains unlikely.
If and when a police report is successfully filed in Pakistan, it can then be sent to Abu Dhabi to be taken to the Nadra office at the embassy. Only then could Mr Wazir's old card be removed from the system.
Mr Gul could solve his problem with a police report for losing the duplicate card he says he never had.
In either case, they would have to pay a Dh440 fee - recently reduced from Dh750 - to lift the block, on top of at least Dh155 for the new passport.
Both men say that cost is beyond their means. Mr Gul earns Dh700 a month, half of which he sends back home. Mr Wazir makes much less, and rarely manages to send money home. "I don't get much work," he said. Until that changes, he is likely to be stuck.