Zimbabwe passport office has backlog of 200 000 documents

CECILIA Majanyuke flips through the pages of her passport everytime it is stamped by immigration officials.

She pays particular attention to the number of free pages in her travelling document – for it is a lifeline and precious tool to always have in neat shape – because that passport also defines the future.

Majanyuke is a cross-border trader.
Her sojourns across the regional borders, especially to neighbouring South Africa where she buys goods for resale here, have been hit hard by the current shortages of passport paper.

The shortages of passport paper have put her clothing business which had survived the last seven years of economic turmoil, under serious threat.

With an expired passport she has two options, either to illegally skip borders and risk deportation or wait for months without fending for her family.

“When your business is standing still and your children need to eat and go to school, you go through desperate measures.
“The decision to stop issuing emergency passports or limiting them to few emergency cases is a deep cut to us cross-borders considering that the $53 passports are taking ages to be processed,” she told the Daily News on Sunday.

Majanyuke’s story is shared by many people including ordinary travellers who have had to endure many months of waiting for a passport, be it a first application or renewal.
Zimbabwe is currently in the throes of a debilitating economic crisis which has resulted in acute shortages of foreign currency.
As a result, the country has been experiencing shortages of goods and disruption to essential services.

The Registrar General’s office is grappling with the shortages of special paper needed in the processing of passports due to the foreign currency crunch.
Registrar-General Clemence Masango said the shortages of passport paper were so bad that his office had resorted to screening even those who wanted to pay top dollar for an emergency passport.

“We have two types of urgent passports — one which can be availed within 24 hours and costs $318, and another, which can be issued within three working days and costs $250, and then a category which can be availed within four weeks ($53), but is affected because currently we are unable to avail them within four weeks due to lack of consumables like ink, passport paper and others, which need foreign currency to be imported,” Masango told parliament in February.

The passport office has a backlog of nearly  200 000 applications.
Masango said they have been forced to scale down the processing of emergency and urgent passports to avoid completely running out of paper.

His office is now issuing 500 emergency passports per day.
But for cross-borders this is a new challenge which threatens their very survival as waiting for many months means loss of business and shattered families.

“Due to failure in obtaining passports some women eventually attempt to cross the border illegally and pay bribes on the way, an option that is dangerous and open to abuse.
“Traffickers use dangerous routes that might endanger the lives of the women exposing them to robberies and crossing dangerous or flooded rivers,” said Melody a cross border trader who hopes for improvements in the processing of passports.

Most cross border traders use Beitbridge and Chirundu borders which lead to South Africa and Zambia, respectively.
For those wishing to cut corners the journeys are always fraught with dangers such as being raped, robbed or enduring hair-raising situations of having to cross crocodile infested Limpopo and Zambezi rivers, respectively, when their water levels are high like during the rainy season.

“We are pleading with government to address the situation because these people are not demanding jobs… but…are simply looking for documentation so that they hustle and make a living.
“As a body we cannot tolerate this. People are already struggling to make ends meet, they need to send kids to school and have bills to pay, so if they are denied access to travel documentation how on earth will they fend for their families?

“The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe should prioritise sourcing foreign currency for the processing of passports with the same seriousness they apply in other sectors,” said Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association president, Killer Zivhu whose association has two million members.

According to International Labour Organisation (ILO) research, small-scale cross-border trade can play a fundamental role in contributing to poverty reduction and food security across Africa.

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