Lebanon halts passport renewals as fears of exodus grow

Lebanon halts passport renewals as fears of exodus grow
The Lebanese General Security has said that it will suspend passport renewals from this week and that its stock of passports will cover only current applicants. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 April 2022

Lebanon halts passport renewals as fears of exodus grow

Lebanon halts passport renewals as fears of exodus grow
  • Authorities ‘unable to meet demand,’ with requests for passports 10 times higher than in previous years
  • World Bank warns that economic crisis will force hundreds of thousands to leave in search of work or study

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have stopped accepting applications for passport renewals, saying they are unable to keep up with demand, as the country’s worsening economic crisis pushes people to leave the country. 

The Lebanese General Security has said that it will suspend passport renewals from this week and that its stock of passports will cover only current applicants.

The announcement has sparked fears that authorities are determined to stop people leaving Lebanon, limiting their freedom of movement. 

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of General Security, said: “The passport application platform has scheduled appointments until April 2023, and passports will be delivered to all those who have already applied until that date.”

Lebanese have been rushing to get biometric passports since 2020, with requests for renewals 10 times higher than in previous years.

Locals anticipated a rise in passport fees, so rushed to get new documents, while expats took advantage of their vacations in Lebanon to renew their passports for about $35, avoiding the $200 or $300 payment required at Lebanese embassies abroad.

A study by the General Directorate of General Security found that 69 percent of people obtained passports without using them, and that about 20,000 citizens renewed their passports in 2021, although they had two more years before their documents expired.

The study also found that more than 15,000 passports were processed, but were never claimed by their owners.

The General Security said: “As of 2020, our main and regional centers had 10 times more passport applications than previous years, which affected our passport inventory.”

Brig. Gen. Mounir Akiki, from General Security, told Arab News that the rising number of applications and dwindling stock forced authorities to act.

New conditions were issued in February for renewing passports that some believed were impossible to meet.

Requirements included having a valid residency abroad, a valid visa affixed to the passport to be renewed, an embassy appointment within a month of the date of submitting the application, or evidence of continuing studies abroad, or medical reports if the purpose of renewing the passport is to continue treatment abroad, or to show a signed work contract and necessary documents if the purpose is to work abroad.

In addition, the biometric passport fee was raised from 300,000 Lebanese pounds ($200) to 600,000 Lebanese pounds (valid for five years) and from 500,000 Lebanese pounds to 1.2 million Lebanese pounds (valid for 10 years).

Akiki said that issues with passport were also behind the General Security’s decision.

“In 2021, we realized the repercussions of the economic crisis in Lebanon and signed a contract with the French company that prints Lebanese passports worth $12 million in return for printing 1 million passports, but the company requested to transfer a certain amount as a documentary credit to start printing, and according to the Code of Money and Credit in Lebanon, contracts must be signed in Lebanese pounds and not in dollars.”

He added: “When we signed the contract with the French company, the dollar exchange rate was based on the official rate, i.e. 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, and there was no exchange platform affiliated with the Central Bank that sets rates in accordance with financial market movements.”

This affected the continuity of the work. Akiki claimed that Ibrahim urged several politicians to end the crisis, but without success.

According to Akiki, there will be no passports available after April 2023 if the issue is not resolved by then. 

Discussing the possibility of renewing old passports as an alternative, Akiki said: “We cannot do that. The old passport has been canceled and can no longer be used. This decision is made by the International Civil Aviation Organization.”

Akiki said that the contract with the French company was worth around 22 billion Lebanese pounds, based on the official exchange rate.

But he said the value increases to around 300 billion Lebanese pounds as per the central bank’s Sayrafa platform rate (around 22,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar).

The Lebanon Crisis Observatory at the American University of Beirut has predicted a wave of emigration from Lebanon in coming years.

A key indicator is that 77 percent of young people are considering emigrating, while specialists and professionals are also leaving in search of better working conditions and income.

Thousands of Lebanese, including teachers, doctors, nurses and university graduates, left the country two years ago, and the number of departures increased after the Beirut port explosion.

The World Bank estimates that Lebanon will need at least 12 years to return to 2017 gross domestic product levels.

This will pressure hundreds of thousands to leave the country in order to invest, work, study and retire abroad, the bank said.


Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital
Updated 9 sec ago

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

SANAA, Yemen: Heavy rains lashing Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, which dates back to ancient times, have in recent days collapsed 10 buildings in the Old City, the country’s Houthi rebels said Wednesday.
At least 80 other buildings have been heavily damaged in the rains and are in need of urgent repairs, said the rebels, who have controlled Sanaa since the outbreak of Yemen’s civil war more than eight years ago.
The Old City of Sanaa is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the area believed to have been inhabited for more than 2 millennia. Its architecture is unique, with foundations and first stories built of stone, and subsequent stories out of brick — deemed to be some of the world’s first high-rises.
The buildings have red brick facades adorned with white gypsum molding in ornate patterns, drawings comparisons to gingerbread houses — a style that has come to symbolize Yemen’s capital. Many of the houses are still private homes and some are more than 500 years old.
In a statement, Abdullah Al-Kabsi, the culture minister in the Houthi administration, said the rebels are working with international organizations and seeking help in dealing with the destruction. There were no immediate reports of dead or injured from the collapses.
The houses had withstood centuries but this season’s intense rains have proved too much for the iconic structures. Bricks and wooden beams now make for massive piles of rubble in between still-standing structures.
The rains show no signs of letting up.
“I get scared when I hear the rain and pray to God because I am afraid that my house will collapse over me,” Youssef Al-Hadery, a resident of the Old City said.


Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
Updated 56 min 54 sec ago

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
  • Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia
  • Importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemeni ports

ADEN: Yemen has secured enough wheat to cover two-and-a-half months of consumption, a commerce ministry document dated Aug. 4 showed, as global disruptions and local currency instability risk deepening the war-torn country’s hunger crisis.
A review by the internationally recognized government in Aden showed 176,400 tons of wheat available — 70,400 stockpiled and 106,000 booked for August/September delivery — according to the document.
This is in addition to 32,300 tons of wheat available from the United Nations, which feeds some 13 million people a month in Yemen, the document showed.
Yemen is grappling with a dire humanitarian crisis that has left millions hungry in the seven-year conflict that divided the country and wrecked the economy. Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia.
HSA Group, one of Yemen’s largest food conglomerates, said it had booked around 250,000 tons of wheat from Romania and France, sufficient to supply the market until mid-October, and that it is looking to secure a further 110,000 tons.
“Following the announcement of the Ukraine grain deal, we are currently looking to secure Ukrainian wheat for the Yemeni market if it remains affordable and accessible,” an HSA spokesperson, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal last month to restart exports from Ukraine, cut off since Russia’s February invasion, which could ease grain shortages that have driven up global prices. So far, however, there have not been any shipments of wheat.
Yemeni importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemen ports and the country’s limited storage capacity, the HSA spokesperson said, and therefore the firm books new shipments every 2-3 weeks depending on availability and global prices.
Another issue facing importers is Yemen’s foreign reserves shortage and a serious devaluation of the currency in some parts of the country, where food price inflation has soared.
The Aden-based central bank has put in place an auction mechanism to ease access to foreign currency, but no import financing mechanism is currently in place to support the market.


Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
Updated 10 August 2022

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast

Order to seize Lebanon MPs’ property over port blast
  • The decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two MPs
  • Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought

BEIRUT: Judicial authorities in Lebanon Wednesday ordered the temporary seizure of the property of two deputies in the case of the deadly explosion which destroyed Beirut port two years ago.
“Judge Najah Itani has issued a temporary seizure order worth 100 billion Lebanese pounds on the property of MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter,” a judicial source told AFP.
The source said the decision was issued in the context of a complaint filed by the Beirut Bar Association to question the two for having “used their rights... in an arbitrary manner by filing complaints intended to hinder the investigation.”
Compensation of 100 billion Lebanese pounds is being sought.
On Thursday, crisis-hit Lebanon marked two years since the massive port blast ripped through Beirut.
The dockside blast of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate, one of history’s biggest non-nuclear explosions, killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and decimated vast areas of the capital.
After the tragedy, the bar launched legal proceedings against the state on behalf of nearly 1,400 families of victims.
However, an investigation into the cause has been stalled amid political interference and no state official has yet been held accountable over the tragedy.
Khalil and Zeaiter, of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal party, filed a total of 20 complaints against Judge Tareq Bitar for obstructing the investigation which he himself was carrying out.
Politicians on all sides have refused to be questioned by the judge.
Officials close to the powerful Hezbollah movement have also curtailed Bitar’s work with a series of lawsuits.
His investigation has been paused since December 23.
On Thursday’s second anniversary of the blast, relatives of victims demanded an international inquiry.


Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
Updated 10 August 2022

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south

Syria says Daesh leader killed in south
  • Security forces carried out a "special operation" in the Daraa area that led to the death of "the terrorist Abu Salem al-Iraqi"
  • The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country's south

DAMASCUS: A leader of Daesh group blew himself up in southern Syria after being surrounded by government forces, state media reported on Wednesday, citing a security source.
The official SANA news agency said security forces carried out a “special operation” in the Daraa area that led to the death of “the terrorist Abu Salem Al-Iraqi.”
Iraqi “triggered his explosive belt after being surrounded and wounded,” the agency said.
The security source said Iraqi had been the military chief of the extremist group in the country’s south.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which has a vast network of sources on the ground, said Iraqi died on Tuesday.
It said he had been hiding out in the area since 2018, and had taken part in killings and attacks there.
Daraa province has mostly been under regime control since 2018, but rebel groups still control some areas under a truce deal agreed with Russia, an ally of Damascus.
After a meteoric rise in 2014 in Iraq and Syria that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, Daesh saw its self-proclaimed “caliphate” collapse under a wave of offensives.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells of the extremist Sunni Muslim group still carry out attacks in both countries.
Syria’s war began in 2011 and has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.


Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal

Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal
Updated 10 August 2022

Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal

Lebanon risks plunge into darkness as govt races for fuel deal
  • UN spokesman calls on Nasrallah to halt ‘incitement,’ threats

BEIRUT: Lebanon could plunge into total darkness by the end of August if an agreement with Iraq to supply Electricite du Liban with fuel is allowed to expire.

With fuel stocks falling to critically low levels, the Lebanese government is looking for ways to avert a major power crisis.

Fears of an energy shortfall grew on Tuesday amid threats by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

“Hezbollah is ready for war if the Israeli side decides to start drilling for gas in the Karish field on Sept. 1, in the event that no agreement is reached between Lebanon and Tel Aviv during the remaining few weeks,” he said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric called on Nasrallah to avoid incitement and adding fuel to the fire in the region.

Lebanon’s last shipment of oil from Iraq in July was insufficient, EDL said, adding that it was “barely 28,000 metric tons.”

It said: “We are prioritizing vital facilities in Lebanon, namely the airport, the port, water pumps, sewage systems and basic state headquarters.”

EDL also warned of low production capacity, which will reach a maximum of 250 megawatts within days. “This will negatively affect the stability of the network, which sometimes exposes it to blackouts that may be repeated several times per day, despite the exceptional efforts to stabilize the electrical network as much as possible.”

The Ministry of Energy, under the government of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, has been actively searching for an alternative to Iraqi oil, focusing on Algeria and Iran as potential sources.

Nasrallah suggested in July accepting an Iranian donation of fuel to address the crisis, provided that it reaches Lebanese and not Syrian ports, adding: “This, however, requires an official Lebanese decision.”

Caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayyad said: “The Iraqi side is positive regarding the fuel file, and we are counting on extending the agreement between Lebanon and Iraq. The Iraqis did not refuse to extend the agreement, but rather wished to reexamine it before reaching a solution in the next few days.”

Fayyad said that an Iraqi delegation will visit Lebanon to discuss several issues. “We are seeking a great understanding with the Iraqi government,” he said.

Iraq was reportedly hesitant to extend the contract over concerns that Lebanon could fail to pay for the imported fuel in the future.

Speaking on the potential Iranian donation, and if sanctions would prevent Beirut accepting it, Fayyad said that Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mojtaba Amani stressed Tehran’s readiness to offer free fuel to Lebanon.

“The Iranian donation would help Lebanon to cross this difficult stage, and the ministry has sent the Iranian side the specifications of the required fuel. The Iranian side requested that a team be formed to discuss this donation, and we are waiting for Mikati’s word to proceed,” Fayyad said.

Mikati’s media office said: “Amani has voiced his country’s readiness to provide the donation of fuel. Mikati thanked Iran for the offer and requested follow-up on this issue with the Ministry of Energy to ensure the technical specifications of the fuel. No official steps have been taken in this regard.”

Some analysts have warned that Iranian fuel is incompatible with Lebanon’s power plants, and that the donated fuel would need to be swapped with a third country for domestic use.  

According to an informed source, the Ministry of Energy is seeking to meet with Algerian energy companies to reach an agreement to supply fuel on concessional terms, but progress has stalled.

The process of importing Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity is still stumbling as a result of the World Bank’s delay in approving a loan to finance the project, owing to Lebanon’s failure in implementing conditions of the deal.