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Passports for Sale in Afghanistan

Shortage creates new illegal trade in travel documents.
By Abdol Wahed Faramarz

A thriving black market has emerged in Afghan passports, after the authorities stopped issuing them three months ago.

The passport agency announced in late 2011 that it would no longer be issuing passports, telling parliament it had run out of blank documents.

However, IWPR has discovered that corrupt officials are illicitly selling passports via middlemen to anyone willing to pay a high price.

 
 
 
 

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“We have seen that our friends, relatives and constituents have obtained passports for between 500 and 700 [US] dollars,” Mohammad Aref Rahmani, a member of parliament from the southern Ghazni province, said. “People are getting passports by paying substantial amounts of money.”

One of the brokers involved in the illegal trade took an IWPR reporter to a night-time meeting in Kabul where he acquired passports from staff of the issuing agency.

He said that after the moratorium was announced, passports appeared on the black market for 200 or 300 dollars, but that the cost had now risen to 500 or 700 dollars because officials were demanding a larger cut.

A passport officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the trade was taking place.

“A number of new passports are held by high-ranking officials, and they distribute them in return for money,” he said.

Both he and the broker insisted that applicants still had to supply the proper supporting documents, even though they were paying bribes.

The passport officer told IWPR that the initial shortage was partly caused by an inundation of people hoping to make the annual Hajj or pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. People had also rushed to buy passports when Iran moved to deport Afghans who lacked proper documents.

Mohammad Amin Khuramji, deputy head of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, a government watchdog, confirmed that some passport officers were issuing the documents in exchange for large sums. He said his office had contacted the security agencies about the problem, but had not received a response.

Ghazni resident Shafiqullah decided to buy a black-market document after being turned away 15 days in a row at the passport agency, where staff told him they had none left.

“I had to pay a broker 500 dollars and I got the passport in two days,” he said.

General Ayub, head of the Afghan passport agency, denied that any of his staff were involved in wrongdoing, and said the allegations were just false rumours spread by black marketeers.

“Under no circumstances are passports issued to anyone in return for money,” he said.

The general said passports were still being issued in special cases, for example to patients needing emergency treatment abroad, and to businessmen whose foreign trips were seen as important to the national economy. No illegal payments were involved, he said.

General Ayub said the passports now being sold on the black market were forgeries.

“Those who claim they have bought passports for money should complain either to me or to the security agencies so that the perpetrators can be arrested,” he said.

Parliamentarian Rahmani disputed this, insisting the passports on sale were genuine. He added that it made no sense to ask people who had bought them illegally to go to the passport agency to complain.

Afghanistan’s finance ministry has contracted a London-based company to produce 1.4 million passports, which should arrive this month, according to officials. General Ayub said passports would start being issued again once they arrived.

In the interim, dozens of people queued up outside the passport office in Kabul, in the hope of acquiring a passport despite the moratorium.

Mohammad Nazar, an elderly man wrapped in a blanket against the cold, said he had been queuing for ten days. Some of his friends had paid bribes and got passports, but he was too poor to do so.

“I have no money so they won’t give me a passport,” he said.

Abdul Wahed Faramarz is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kabul.
 

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