Syrians suffer from a new problem, namely, the difficulty of obtaining passports, whether inside or outside their country, as it takes a long time and costs a lot of money. Its cost has become the highest in the world, as the cost of issuing one passport reaches more than two thousand US dollars inside Syrian territory and about half of this amount abroad, despite the official fee for obtaining a passport being much less than these two amounts.
The Syrian regime's Ministry of Interior launched a digital platform at the beginning of this year to obtain an appointment to request a passport and to organize the procedure for those wishing to obtain it. However, what happened was contrary to expectations, as people expected that organizing appointments electronically would save them from paying additional bribes, but the outcome disappointed them.
"The electronic platform launched by the Ministry of Interior months ago is just a decoration," said a Syrian woman who works as a teaching assistant at Damascus University's Faculty of Arts. “I requested an appointment to obtain a passport at Damascus' Immigration and Passports office, but my appointment was in January 2024, which means I would have to wait about two years until the date of the passport application comes,” she continued.
“Giving late appointments after two years activates the market of brokers who work with immigration, passport, and security branch employees, and they demand exorbitant amounts of money and hard currency,” the assistant professor told Majalla.
The university professor received her passport before her scheduled date of two years later after paying $2,000 to a person who works with an employee inside the Immigration and Passports building, who aided in the process of obtaining the passport so that it was issued in just two months.
The professor emphasized that the Department of Immigration and Passports is attempting to create barriers for any passport applicant to earn money from them, especially since chaos reigns in the country and there is no control in it against the backdrop of the war that has lasted nearly 11 years, giving the passport an added value because it allows the holder to flee the city.
Majalla was unable to obtain comment from Immigration and Passports Department employees, but a university student from Al-Hasakah governorate who lives in Damascus told us: “In this place, you can get everything if you pay, even if you are wanted by the security forces.”
On the other hand, a young man in his thirties who is returning to university after taking a year off to serve in the Syrian regime's army confirmed that, “Many brokers have become more important than employees, especially those who have links with senior officials with whom they share passport proceeds.”
This university student has been unable to obtain a passport until now because he lacks the funds required by the brokers in exchange for a passport as soon as possible.
In this regard, he said, "I got an appointment from the platform, but my appointment is set for December 2023, and I have no choice but to wait, especially since I will not travel tomorrow if I get my passport today."
"The passport has become a necessity, as it is the only way for me to leave the country and improve my situation," he added.
Less than a month ago, the Syrian regime's Ministry of Interior raised the cost of obtaining a passport from 100,000 Syrian pounds to 300,000 Syrian pounds, or about $25 to $75. Although many people attended appointments months ago through booking on the Ministry’s digital platform, they nevertheless did not get their passports yet.
Furthermore, three Syrian workers planning to relocate from Aleppo to Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, stated that: “The fees for obtaining a passport in Syrian pounds are also high, as it is equivalent to what we earn in three months.”
The fees for the Syrian passport vary depending on whether it is applied for normally or urgently, but in both cases, there are those who cannot obtain it, especially since it is equivalent to the salary of a government employee for several months.
According to another worker: “The Syrian passport is perhaps the worst in the world in terms of not allowing its holder to enter most countries without a visa, but it is still the most expensive in the world.”
He went on to urge the Syrian regime to make it easier to obtain passports: "For example, passport fees should vary from person to person based on annual or monthly income and profession.”
With the platform providing late dates, those who need the passport quickly have no choice but to pay the brokers, especially since the deadline for submitting applications for an urgent passport has recently been extended for several months.
A young Syrian woman revealed that she applied for an urgent passport eight months ago but has yet to receive it.
On her part, Laila Haidar, a young Syrian woman who lives in the slums of Khirbet Al Ward, said: “I have no choice but to use a broker connected to the immigration and passport offices. I've found a job abroad and need to travel as soon as possible.”
“Right now, I'm negotiating with the company I'll be working with abroad to pay an advance so that I can get the passport because it will cost more than $2,000," she told Majalla.
Aside from the big brokers, other people are trying to make money after getting early dates on the digital platform and selling them to others by giving the beneficiary a legal power of attorney.
This procedure is carried out after a person receives an early appointment in his name. However, he can obtain a legal power of attorney from another person and apply for a passport instead.
Hembervan Kose, a Syrian journalist, stated: “The difficulty in obtaining a passport is no longer the only issue. These difficulties have existed and have become routine since the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, particularly after the closure of consulates and embassies in most countries around the world. However, today the issue is more complex because the regime's transformation into a brokerage regime which is cooperating with brokers to obtain the passport is complicating the matter.”
“The passport in the case of brokerage requires a salary of two and a half months for the majority of Syrians in the Kurdistan region, and the Syrians are obliged to pay these amounts, because the work permit in the region is granted based on the passport. For each day of delay, the Syrian is fined the sum of 20,000 Iraqi dinars, and this is an additional problem,” he further explained to Majalla.
According to Kose: "The Syrian regime also imposes many conditions for obtaining a passport, including the power of attorney for a lawyer in Syria, a video clip in Erbil, as well as receiving direct contact with an Immigration and Passport officer via video technology, and this takes additional time and causes pressure.”
Concerning the most prominent issues with Syrian passports obtained in the Kurdistan region, the Syrian journalist notes that: “A while ago, all passports were granted without the passport holder's fingerprints or signature, and the absence of fingerprints and signatures caused many problems for the Syrians, among them is the refusal of a number of consulates to grant visas for family reunification and other purposes, as well as their demand for a signature or fingerprint, which is difficult for Syrians due to the absence of an embassy in Erbil.”
On the other hand, three Syrian refugees living in Germany on a temporary annual residency visa said they were unable to renew their passports at the Syrian regime's embassy in Berlin.
One of them stated that he went to the Belgian capital, Brussels, but was unable to obtain a passport because his primary place of residence in Europe is outside Belgian territory.
“It is necessary to obtain a passport because my residency will expire in a few months and I will be unable to renew it until I obtain a new one,” he said.
“I call the Syrian embassy in Paris every day to try to get a passport, but no one answers my calls," he continued.
The Syrian regime recently increased the fees for obtaining passports, but no one is obligated to pay these amounts, especially since the vast majority of passport applicants obtain them through brokers linked to Immigration and Passport Department employees.
The Syrian passport crisis has worsened since last August, nearly a year ago, with the regime unable to find radical solutions despite the high percentage of those wishing to travel abroad and those waiting for passports after applying for them.
The Department of Immigration and Passports headquarters in Syria had previously announced the failure of the electronic platform dedicated to booking appointments and roles for obtaining passports, without explaining the reasons for the malfunction or the time required to fix it.
The regime's Ministry of Interior previously announced on its official Facebook page that it had arrested eight people who were receiving large sums of money totaling 2 million Syrian pounds (equivalent to more than $500) in exchange for obtaining passports for people who needed them as soon as possible.
According to the ministry, four other people were arrested for accepting money in exchange for an appointment at one of the Immigration and Passports offices.
The Syrian passport occupies a low rank in the list of passports around the world that allow holders to reach destinations without a prior visa, according to the Henley Passport Index for ranking passports globally.
*Jiwan Soz is a researcher and journalist who focuses on Turkish affairs and minorities in the Middle East. He is also a member of Syndicat National des Journalistes (National Syndicate of Journalists [SNJ]).