BEIRUT: General Security Thursday issued a press release stating that it had given citizens notice a month ago regrading the imminent changes in regulations for passports renewed by hand, although no deadline was specified at the time. The statement comes as Lebanese aired their anger following the recent announcement by the institution that passports renewed by hand would become obsolete on the 10th of this month.
As the news broke, citizens flocked to General Security offices to get new passports, leading to increasing panic as confused people received contradictory answers from officials. General Security, which is responsible for issuing travel documents, announced the change to passport rules on Christmas Eve, while many were on holiday.
“The office of General Security hereby informs citizens who posses passports renewed by hand ... [that they] require replacement with new ones,” the statement read. “General Security would also like to point out that such passports will be withdrawn by state institutions and border agencies as of 10/1/2016 and these documents will be canceled.”
The statement points out that the move is required to comply with regulations of the International Aviation Organization.
Yet the move was met with anger and frustration by many, as some people attributed the late announcement to government incompetence and corruption rather than international legislation.
Those in breach of the new ruling and who wish to travel are required to pay for a new passport.
A passport valid for one year costs $40, while a five-year travel document costs $200.
Citizens who recently renewed their passports but who have fallen foul of the legislation have complained about the waste of money, decrying the additional payment of another $40 for a new passport.
Many are wary about applying for five-year passports as General Security is expected to issue updated passports with biometric identification in the near future. Biometric passports will again render older ones invalid.
One Lebanese citizen, who requested not to be identified, told The Daily Star about her experience in trying to get a new passport. She had to rush from Beirut to her Zahle district in order to get an ikhraj qayd [an official document of civil status]. She then contacted her local mukhtar who gave her the required documents before going to General Security.
“When I got there it was a mess,” she explained. People were given numbers that determined their position in the queue but the display that was supposed to show these numbers was not working.
Instead General Security employees just shouted out numbers from inside the office.
“I arrived at 1 p.m. and waited for an hour till my request was processed ... but others had been there since 8 a.m. and had yet to process their requests,” she said. General Security has apparently promised that she should have her passport back by Monday afternoon, shortly before her flight out of the country booked for Monday evening.
The Daily Star headed to General Security headquarters on Damascus Road to assess the situation. Our reporter was met with contradictory responses by officers and was not allowed into the headquarters.
“You should be fine ... you are traveling next week, will only be staying for two weeks, and your passport is valid until August,” a General Security officer told the reporter when asked, before being given back the hand-renewed passport – that according to the new legislation would be invalid by Jan. 10.
Meanwhile another officer told the reporter that his documents were no good. “Your passport was renewed by hand and you need to make another if you want to travel next week,” the other officer said.
The second General Security officer was located a block away from the first.
Many citizens have taken to social media to lambaste the government for the move.
“Really this government is just a thief and just want to figure out new ways to rob the people ... I am sure we will have to redo our driving licenses next,” one Facebook user wrote. Other commentators simply wrote “thieves” under the myriad news articles concerning the announcement.
Others decried what they thought was unprofessional conduct by General Security. Many considered that the authorities had failed to inform citizens ahead of the implementation of the regulation.
“The first time I heard about this was on LBC, I was so surprised ... this should have made the news at least a month before the deadline, not 10 days,” another social media commentator said.
The citizen interviewed by The Daily Star said that she only found out about the new regulation Wednesday night, after a friend had called to inform her of the changes.
Some citizens complained about the inefficiency surrounding the procedures to get a new passport. “Today, the time I spent to get a new passport as per the new decree is the same [amount] of time as my flight to the U.K.,” a social media user said.
According to the General Security, visas that citizens have on their invalid passports will not be lost. The new documents will be stapled to the old ones bearing the existing visas.
Passports that have dependents affixed – such as parents and their children – will also be subject to the same requirements and their holders will have to get a new one.
General Security has promised to extend office hours until 4 p.m. to accommodate the volume.