Passports Please: Afghans Queue Up For Escape Lifeline

A woman and a child walk past people standing in a queue to submit their passport applications at an office in Kabul | AFP photo

KABUL: Like thousands of his compatriots, Abdel Khalid Nabyar waited outside Afghanistan’s main passport office to apply for the precious travel document that would allow him to leave the war-torn nation.

With the Taliban making huge advances in the countryside as foreign forces wind up their withdrawal, many Afghans — those with the means, at least — are looking for a way out.

“If the situation worsens, we might have to leave,” said Nabyar, 52, who feels particularly vulnerable because he once ran a shop on a Nato military base. Not everyone will make an immediate exit, but most want the safety net — knowing they can leave at short notice.

“People want to be prepared in advance in case things go wrong,” added Nabyar.

Dozens begin lining up at the passport office in Kabul before dawn most days, and by eight in the morning the queue already stretches for a good hundred metres.

Applicants slowly shuffle forward, clutching see-through plastic folders containing their documents. Occasionally a police officer is needed to collar queue-jumpers trying their luck.

One official appeared irritated by the interest shown by journalists at the throng.

“Getting a passport is a normal request for any Afghan,” she said.

But in recent weeks the numbers applying have been anything but usual. “We are getting about 10,000 people a day against 2,000 normally,” said one police officer. Khalilullah, a 36-year-old engineer, arrived at 5:00 am with his wife and three children.

“There were already 300 people in line,” he said, more than three hours after joining the queue.

Applicants need to have their picture taken, eyes biometrically recorded and fingerprints taken as part of the process, with a thorough security frisk thrown in for good measure.

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