Why Lebanese citizens have to think twice before booking that flight ticket

A couple of days into the New Year, the Lebanese General Security, the facility in charge of issuing travel documents, gave Lebanese citizens a little surprise.

On Jan. 7, 2016, a press release was issued stating that all passports renewed by hand would become obsolete on Jan. 10, three days after the publication, leaving the relevant passport holders unable to travel. As per the release, a notice had been given to the citizens a month ago regarding the imminent changes in regulations related to passport renewals.

A Lebanese passport renewed by hand. Credit: The Daily Star Lebanon/Grace Kassab

A Lebanese passport renewed by hand. Credit: The Daily Star Lebanon/Grace Kassab

The announcement angered the Lebanese people, to say the least. The corruption and lack of efficiency in government work has been long known, yet this came as a complete shock. As the news broke, citizens hurried to the General Security offices to get their new passports.

Those who had flights the next day had no choice but to reschedule and lose the money paid, and the worst part was that they still had to pay for the new passports seeing that the General Security offered no reimbursement, The Daily Star Lebanon reported.

A passport valid for one year costs $40 while a validity for five years costs $200, a noticeable figure in a country where 70 percent of the population generates an annual income of less than $10,000, according to IDAL Invest in Lebanon.

If that wasn't enough of a hassle, officials were also giving citizens opposing answers. As cited in The Daily Star, their reporter, who was sent to the office of General Security, was met with contradictory responses. One government official assured the reporter that the passport shouldn't be renewed seeing that the stay at the host country wouldn't surpass two weeks. Another, however, insisted that the passport be renewed, leaving the reporter baffled.

One Lebanese citizen talks about the mess she walked into when she got to the office. The officials were yelling the numbers given to the citizens because the machine supposed to display them wasn't functioning and she had to wait an hour before processing her request.

Many citizens are reluctant when it comes to the renewal because new biometric passports are to be issued as of August 2016, and they would once again have to pay for them. Yet, the General Security had announced that the renewed passports would remain valid until their expiry date and not when the biometric passports are issued. As such, renewed passport holders have nothing to worry about.

What infuriated citizens the most was that at the end of 2012, the International Aviation Organization had notified the Lebanese General Security that all passports renewed by hand would no longer be accepted and that the practice had to be stopped. It took the General Security a full year to begin issuing new documents, and two more to notify citizens.

Despite all the negative comments Lebanese people had to say about the recent happening, little action has been done. From a citizen's perspective, I have become accustomed to the trend. The government, which has been without a president for over a year, knows that its actions won’t be questioned and have no consequences.

The only beacon of hope was last summer's protests that erupted as a result of the garbage situation, but that too seems to have taken a wrong turn. We need to regain confidence in ourselves and remember that a nation is as strong and credible as its people. If we accept to be treated that way, it is because we believe we deserve it.

Related: Garbage crisis thrusts corruption into limelight, drives Lebanon to edge