x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Long queues as Bangladeshis in UAE replace handwritten passports

About 20,000 hand-written passports a month are being replaced by machine-readable versions, in line with global standards set by the International Civil Aviation Authority.

Zashim Uddin, the first secretary of the Bangladeshi embassy in Abu Dhabi, helps to direct citizens waiting in long lines yesterday to have their old handwritten passports replaced with modern digital ones. Sammy Dallal / The National
Zashim Uddin, the first secretary of the Bangladeshi embassy in Abu Dhabi, helps to direct citizens waiting in long lines yesterday to have their old handwritten passports replaced with modern digital ones. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Bangladeshis are queuing up in their hundreds every day at their nation's embassy in the capital and the consulate in Dubai to update their old, handwritten passports.

About 20,000 old passports a month are being replaced by machine-readable versions, in line with global standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

About 500 people are visiting the embassy in Abu Dhabi each day, with officials so overwhelmed they have asked UAE authorities for extra security personnel to manage the numbers.

Bangladeshi officials said they hope to finish updating the passports of the 800,000 nationals in the UAE by December next year.

So far, the missions have replaced 230,000 of the passports - 100,000 in Abu Dhabi and 130,000 in Dubai.

Mohammed Shahadat Husain, a counsellor at the embassy, said: "According to the ICAO, by mid-2015, all handwritten passports will be banned and will not be accepted at any airports across the world, so we want to replace them before that.

"We are trying to increase our capacity to finish it before the deadline," he added.

Last December, the Pakistani mission in the UAE ended its campaign of replacing handwritten passports for its 1.2 million citizens who call the UAE home. It had started the process in June 2008. India and the countries of many other expatriates in the UAE have been issuing machine-readable passports for a number of years already.

Moving to the digital system reduces the chances of fake passports being used and so helps to reduce crime.

Mr Husain added: "This [moving to machine-readable] would completely avoid any kind of duplication and forgery.

"Before, there was scope for a person to have more than one passport and we did not have a solid mechanism to trace the person who got the other passport.

"But with digital passports, it's not possible and the machinery will detect immediately and automatically a second passport, so it cannot be printed because the central server will catch his fingerprints."

The Bangladesh mission's passport renewal plan involves distributing tokens.

More than 400 are handed out each day in Abu Dhabi to allocate appointments, while the consulate in Dubai issues more than 700 a day.

Labourers are charged Dh125 for their new passport while other workers pay Dh405.

When payment is made, a token is received that gives an appointment date for submitting documents and fingerprints. This can sometimes be the same day or the next. The new passports are then delivered in about a month.

In Bangladesh, the renewal process began in 2007 but it only expanded to the UAE in 2010.

The embassy and consulate deals with part of the process here in an attempt to relieve the huge burden of passport-replacement work at the main passport office in the country's capital, Dhaka.

They register biometrics and digital photos electronically into their main server before sending original copies of thedocuments to Dhaka.

Jamaluddin Hassan, a Bangladeshi worker who is based in Abu Dhabi, said: "I came here at about 9am to collect a token for submitting my old passport and apply for a new digital passport but there is too much of a crowd. My passport is due to expire in seven months."

Rafeequl Haque said: "I received the token on Thursday and got an appointment for today to deposit documents."

Part of the mission's mammoth task has been to spread the word of the changes to the Bangladeshi community.

Officials have been sending messages and visiting more remote regions twice a month, Mr Husain said.

Passports are also only delivered to people if it is difficult for them to attend either in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

"We ask the community to come and replace it before the aviation authority deadline, otherwise they will not be able to travel," officials have been telling workers, he said.

 

anwar@thenational.ae