Thousands stuck as Lebanese authorities suspend passport renewals

Lebanon’s General Security Organisation says that it has run out of passports, government has not paid for more.

Demonstrators push with Lebanese soldiers during a protest against a new draft law on capital controls on savings withdrawals outside the parliament building, in downtown Beirut
Lebanon's economic crisis has driven people to the streets, and thousands are attempting to leave the country [File: Hussein Malla/AP Photo]

Lebanese authorities have said that they cannot keep up with demand for new passports and will indefinitely stop issuing them, as the country’s worsening economic crisis continues to push people to leave the country.

Lebanon’s General Security Organisation (GSO) announced on Thursday that the number of passports it had available to issue had dwindled, even as requests for new passports had increased tenfold over the past two years.

The body said that appointments for the issuance or renewal of passports would therefore be suspended.

It also added that the Lebanese government had been asked to pay a company contracted to produce more passports, but that it had not done so.

The head of the GSO, Major-General Abbas Ibrahim, said in December that Lebanon has been struggling to cope with up to 8000 daily requests for new passports.

Aline Fleihan, an architect and activist, waited overnight at the GSO headquarters last September just to obtain an appointment for a passport renewal.

The following day Fleihan said that she was forced to wait for hours in a queue in the sweltering heat with hundreds of others, only for employees to tell her to come back again because the office had reached its daily applications limit.

“I decided to relocate for the first time in my life, because the conditions of living are no longer bearable,” Fleihan told Al Jazeera. “It’s normal that people are willing to leave the country. How can we be able to sustain ourselves or live when there is a lack of basic human needs and rights?”

In less than three years, the Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value, and three-quarters of the population has been plunged into poverty.

Many Lebanese blame the country’s ruling sectarian political parties, banks, and private sector cronies for decades of systematic corruption, financial mismanagement, and poor economic planning.

The GSO had tried to ease pressure at their offices by setting up online appointments, but while that helped with crowd control, it did not ease demand.

Karim Khansa, a 30 year-old engineer, signed up online in December, was scheduled for an appointment four months later in April, and was told to bring a plane ticket and proof of address.

“They still didn’t finish the process though, they told me I still need to wait another 10 days,” Khansa told Al Jazeera.

Mohammad Chamseddine, of the Lebanese research consultancy firm Information International, told Al Jazeera that at least 77,000 Lebanese had left the country in 2021, almost three-quarters of them between the ages of 25 and 40.

And many who are still in the country hope to follow suit – a Gallup poll in late 2021 revealed that 63 percent of Lebanese would like to permanently leave the country in the face of worsening living conditions.

The brain drain is affecting multiple sectors – including the already crippled health sector, with the World Health Organization estimating that at least 40 percent of doctors and 30 percent of nurses have left the country.

Source: Al Jazeera