Syrians abroad fall prey to passport renewal vortex
Enab Baladi – Maria al-Shaaban
“I spent ten thousand US dollars on passport renewals over the past decade, a passport that never allowed me to travel outside Istanbul, but its renewal is almost mandatory for those living in this country.”
This was the conclusion reached by Samer Knakri, a 30-year-old Syrian programmer living in Turkey, as he tried to calculate the cost of renewing his passport since leaving Syria. He has spent about $1,500 every two years, with the amount increasing or decreasing depending on various factors.
The issue of passport renewal occupies the minds of Syrian youth living abroad throughout the year.
The Directorate of Immigration and Passports has limited the validity of passports for young men who defer mandatory military service to only two years, and sometimes, the Directorate issues passports valid for two and a half years.
A passport is issued for a full six years to specific categories of Syrians, including women, those who have completed military service, those who have paid the military service exemption fee, and other cases.
Young men in exile face a cycle that begins before the passport’s expiry date and continues until its renewal is complete, as the renewal of residency in the host country is linked to the renewal of the passport.
Syrians face numerous obstacles when renewing their passports, summarized by the high cost and the long period the transaction takes.
A race against time
The expiration date of residency in the host country often coincides with the expiration of the passport, prompting the individual to seek an appointment for passport renewal and, thus, the renewal of residency a few months before the passport’s expiry date.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Ali Ezzedine, a 25-year-old Syrian living in Turkey and a graduate of civil engineering from one of its universities, said that he began facing problems with passport renewal as soon as he turned eighteen. Since then, he has faced numerous difficulties centered around the long and undefined time it takes to process the passport renewal.
The young man mentioned that only eight months remain on his passport, while his residency in Turkey expires in six months. The time difference between renewing the passport and the residency poses a risk of time and money if the Turkish immigration administration or the Syrian embassy delays the procedure, according to Ezzedine.
A major crisis that the passport sector in Syria witnessed was the suspension of passport issuance at the beginning of 2022, which the Ministry of Interior justified by the lack of passport printing papers in Syria. The crisis lasted for about six months and obstructed passport renewal and issuance transactions, along with related official transactions for expatriates.
Ezzedine was one of those affected by this crisis. He mentioned that brokers and lawyers offered him deals to renew his passport for amounts reaching up to 2,500 US dollars.
Due to his expired residency in Turkey and the non-availability of a new passport, the Turkish immigration administration granted him a three-month grace period, awaiting a solution to the passport issue. At the end of the grace period and with the continued crisis of passport printing in Syria, he was granted a humanitarian residence card, which Ezzedine considers being lucky compared to those who had to leave Turkey due to their canceled residency.
The cost of renewing each passport varies according to the time period and the readiness of the immigration administration and the relevant embassies to issue passports. It also depends on the available waiting period before the residency expiration date, which imposes on the individual the type of renewal transaction, “regular” or “urgent,” meaning an increase in fees.
The fees for renewing and issuing passports are distributed between the costs of sending the passport to and from Syria or the Syrian consulate in Oman, the passport issuance fee, and the cost of authenticating the passport from Syrian consulates or embassies if the host country does not recognize the passport without an embassy signature.
Syrians have limited options for renewing their passport, including sending the old passport and required documents to the Syrian embassy in Oman and requesting renewal according to the “regular” (non-urgent transaction) at a cost of 300 US dollars, taking 40 days from the date the embassy receives the passport.
There is also the option to renew the passport as an “urgent” transaction at a cost of 800 dollars within 15 days of receipt, and the fee for renewing or issuing a “regular” passport is higher than the cost of issuing the world’s strongest UAE passport, at a cost of approximately 17 US dollars.
Some Syrian expatriates choose to renew or extract passports by sending them to Syria and completing the transaction through a relative.
The fee for a “regular” passport issuance inside Syria (branches and Directorate of Immigration and Passports affiliated with the Ministry of Interior in Damascus) is 306,000 Syrian pounds, and 426 pounds for the “urgent” passport, according to the latest increase in fees for issuing and renewing passports, which reached 200% and 70% respectively.
The US dollar is trading at 14,900 SYP according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar. At the start of the conflict in 2011, the dollar was trading at 47 pounds.
Authentication fees close to renewal cost
In addition to the cost of renewing or issuing the Syrian passport, authentication fees from Syrian consulates and embassies are added, and acceptance or rejection of the passport without authentication varies by country of residence.
For example, the Syrian consulate in Turkey has opened appointment bookings for authenticating passports and completing specific consular transactions by contacting them with one text message exclusively on the WhatsApp social messaging app, noting that requests will be denied if any additional details are sent or if the request is repeated.
According to Enab Baladi’s observations, waiting times for appointments reached eight months without an official response from the consulate on setting an appointment or explaining the unavailability of current appointments.
The price of authenticating a passport through brokers is 425 US dollars, and offices also provide passport authentication from Lebanon at a cost of 275 dollars, as tracked by Enab Baladi.
The Turkish immigration management does not accept Syrian passports without authentication from the Syrian consulate or the presence of an entry stamp to Turkey on them, forcing Syrians to authenticate their passports either by booking an appointment at the consulate through a brokerage office or traveling to countries that allow Syrians to enter without a visa or with a “visa on arrival” and stamp the passport regularly at the Turkish border. Both options share high costs and time spent.
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