DUBAI // The digital ticker on the wall at the Pakistani consulate read 528 - the number of tickets already passed out for the day.
It was 7pm, usually the end of the rush hour, but people were scattered about, sitting wherever they found space, or standing with documents, waiting for their turn.
Expatriates continue to face difficulties as they apply for Machine Readable Passports (MRPs), with long queues the norm. Mohammed Kashif Khan, who owns a small transportation business, arrived at the consulate at 4pm. Four hours later, he had finally completed his task. The Government has made the passports mandatory to receive a visa, and the consulate is scrambling to keep up.
The Pakistan mission simply lacks the resources and manpower to efficiently serve the community. The ambassador, Jamil Khan, said: "When the consulate was established in Dubai, there were only 300,000 Pakistanis in the entire UAE, whereas it is 1.2 million at this stage.
"Unfortunately, a corresponding increase in the facilities could not be created to serve the needs."
When Ayesha Aslam, a student in Dubai, accompanied her mother to the consulate for a new passport, she was angered by being in a room packed with men. Though women and families are the first to get tickets, processing an application takes time, and there was not enough space to segregate men and women.
The embassy was running dual shifts to speed up the process, but Mr Khan said they only had "the technical capacity to process nearly 500 [applications] in Dubai and 350 in Abu Dhabi".
Sardar Muhammad Khattak, the head of chancery, said the wait was much longer during the summer. Because of that, the consulate started an evening shift to try to ease the wait and accommodate those working during the day.
"Lack of space in Dubai is creating difficulties to establish appropriate counters, which could bring more facilities to the community," Mr Khan said. "However, in the given space, passport counters are being redesigned to optimise space and to improve public dealing, which would considerably reduce waiting time."
Mohammed Haseeb, who works at Sharjah airport, travelled all the way from Fujairah with his family to renew three passports at noon. He waited until 4pm at a nearby mall, then got in line as the second shift began. He ended up waiting a further four hours.
The ambassador said he had taken up the issue with officials in Pakistan "knowing the great difficulty the community is facing". He also said that he was increasing manpower in the UAE offices. More terminals, connected to the main server, would be installed to optimise productivity. With this, "100 per cent improvement is envisaged", he said. "Existing long queues will automatically reduce, if not finish."
On the whole, the officials were sympathetic with the painstaking process residents had to go through to obtain a passport.
"I will struggle to ensure that corresponding facilities are created in the shortest possible time as the Pakistani community is an asset for us deserving full respect and regard," Mr Khan said.