Hundreds of Afghans, many eager to flee, throng Kabul passport office

Those who descended on Afghanistan’s capital city passport office came despite warnings that the distribution of passports would not begin until Saturday and initially for only those with prior applications.

Afghans gather outside the passport office after Taliban officials announced they will start issuing passports to its citizens again, following months of delays that hampered attempts by those trying to flee the country after the Taliban seized control, in Kabul, Afghanistan on October 6, 2021. (Reuters)

Hundreds of Afghans flocked to the passport office in Kabul, just a day after news that it would re-open this week to issue the documents, while Taliban security men had to beat back some in the crowd in efforts to maintain order.

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Taliban officials have said the service will resume from Saturday, after being suspended since their takeover and the fall of the previous government in August, which stranded many of those desperate to flee the country.

“I have come to get a passport but, as you can see here, there are lots of problems, the system is not working,” one applicant, Mahir Rasooli, said outside the office.

“There is no official to answer our questions here to tell us when to come. People are confused.”

A spokesman for the Taliban officials running the passport department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Growing poverty and hunger

Poverty and hunger have worsened since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, which already suffered from drought and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Half a million people have been displaced in recent months, the United Nations says, and the number will only grow if health services, schools and the economy break down.

The hundreds who descended on the passport office came despite advice that distribution of passports would only begin on Saturday, and initially only for those who had already applied.

The crowd pressed against a large concrete barrier, trying to hand documents to an official who stood atop it, in a scene reminiscent of the chaos at Kabul airport in the last stages of evacuation after the withdrawal of US troops.

The official urged the m to return home and come back on Saturday.

“I am here to receive a passport, but unfortunately I couldn’t,” said a man in the crowd, Ahmad Shakib Sidiqi. “I don’t know what we should do in this condition.”

‘No choice except to leave’

The bleak economic outlook drives their desire to leave, said Sidiqi and Rasooli.

“There is no job and the economic situation is not too good, so I want to have a good future for my kids,” said Rasooli.

Sidiqi said he wanted a passport to accompany a member of his family to neighbouring Pakistan to seek medical treatment, but added they had no choice except to leave.

“We have to leave Afghanistan,” he said. “It is a bad situation in Afghanistan – no job, no work. It is not a good condition for us to live.”

The Taliban have said they welcome international aid, though many donors froze their assistance after they took power.

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