Ethiopia orders 1.5 million passports to clear citizen backlog

Ethiopia orders 1.5 million passports to clear citizen backlog

New Director vows to clear 300,000+ passport application backlog within a year

The Ethiopian Immigration Service (EIS) has placed the country’s largest passport order in years – a whopping 1.5 million new documents from manufacturers in Paris. Around 190,000 passports have already arrived in Ethiopia over the past few weeks.

The massive procurement marks a turning point for the long-troubled agency. For the past six months, the office had come to a standstill, grinding applications to a halt. A massive backlog of over 300,000 requests had piled up as a result.

However, help may finally be on the way. Newly-appointed director general Selamawit Dawit, who replaced scandal-plagued former officials just one month ago, vows to clear the whole backlog within the next fiscal year.

“We will work tirelessly to get passports to the 300,000 waiting applicants, as well as any new requests that come in, by this time next year,” she said.

In her short yet impactful tenure so far, Selamawit said she has worked to unravel the nest of corruption and inefficiency that had the office in a chokehold. She identified “priority problems like the passport shortage and lack of hard currency to resolve.”

Her team also began urgently processing renewals for Ethiopians stuck abroad without valid travel documents. Over 16,710 passports have already been airlifted to embassies across the Middle East. Another 4,000 were sent to missions in Africa.

Selamawit said the agency has prioritized resolving problems, starting with issuing passports to Ethiopians abroad. “We managed to resume passport services, first targeting Ethiopians in Gulf countries,” she explained. “Many lost their jobs and faced severe hardship due to inability to renew passports.”

To help whittle down the massive backlog, the office has introduced extended working hours, including Saturday, Sunday, and evenings until 9pm on weekdays. However, the top priority remains applications outstanding for over three months. Citizens who missed their online appointment can now access services on Saturdays as well.

The new management is also preparing to restore visa-on-arrival, suspended since conflict erupted in northern Ethiopia due to security concerns. As a former tourism minister, Selamawit understands the economic impact, saying “the country has lost much from tourism with this service suspended.”

In addition to institutional corruption bringing the agency to its knees, EIS grappled with chronic forex shortages to import passports. “The government has now provided adequate forex allocation,” Selamawit stated, declining to disclose procurement costs for the 1.5 million documents. The new passports will address backlogs and incoming applications.

Selamawit acknowledges more reform is still needed. “There is an underground network of internal and external actors,” she warned. “Employees smuggle out documents for sale to fraudsters producing forged passports, posing national security risks. Foreigners are also involved in this criminal racket.”

EIS has handed over lists of implicated Ethiopians and foreigners to the Anti-Corruption Commission and is working with intelligence.

Even after leadership changes last month, passports continue fetch up to 40,000 birr illegally from the office, with forged documents going for 120,000 birr or more, sources tell The Reporter.

Selamawit identified several priority areas for reform, including “screening employees to weed out bad actors, restricting access to sensitive areas, introducing new strategies and plans both short and long-term, purging all infiltration and corruption within the organization, and improving working conditions.”

A significant number of citizens hold forged passports not recognized by aviation authorities, according to Selamawit. The passport crimes included creating fake online applications through fraudulent websites mimicking the EIS site.

“EIS has been plagued by severe problems and negative press for too long,” Selamawit stated. “Even hardworking employees have unfairly faced blame alongside bad apples. Salaries are meager while facilities are poor. We must boost pay and benefits to better motivate staff to serve citizens.”

While EIS scrambles to recover from entrenched corruption and dysfunction, many agree the government was tardy in reforming the agency. As Selamawit acknowledged, “Leadership changes alone can’t fix this. We’re pursuing holistic reform of the deep, complex webs of corruption infiltrating every level. It will take time to fully uproot and transform the institution from top to bottom. But we are determined to resolve all issues and ensure every citizen can access passports as their right.”

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