Ugandans hoping to travel abroad have been left stranded after the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs ran out of stock for ordinary passports. The problem is expected to last for at least one month.
Fred Mwesiga, is the father to Jacob Mwesiga who is seeking treatment abroad, after he was attacked and beaten by thugs. Now the lower part of his body is paralyzed. He is also stranded and is desperate for a passport for his son. The longer it takes for him to get one, the higher the risk of his son losing his life. "I need to be assisted, they should help us because this passport issue has affected me a lot," Fred Mwesiga said. He wants his son to get treatment and go to school like other children.
However, officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs do not see Mwesiga's case as urgent. They have run out of passports and the remaining few are to be issued to emergency cases only or to students traveling abroad for studies.
Passports for emergency cases only
In the absence of passports the few available are reserved for the sick people going for surgery abroad. The commissioner for Passport Control Nicholas Ongodia told DW that demand was high hence straining the meager resources. "We have been issuing about 700 passports per day, we had a spike of applications caused by labor exports to the Middle East," Ongodia said.
Uganda prints its passports in the United Kingdom. According to a ministry official who did not want to be named, Uganda has unpaid arrears. This has forced the printers to hold the productions of new passports.
The Ministry found itself in a similar situation in 2016 when ordinary passports ran out, stopping the issuance of new passports and renewals. Ongodia could not specifically address the arrears but said his department was running on a tight budget amidst growing demand. "Since 1998, we have operated under a budget ceiling which we haven't broken yet but our demand for passports has been going up."
Since the ministry issued a statement calling for only emergency cases, the usually long queues of people along Potbell road, outside the passport office, waiting to get passports or hand in their applications, reduced. Musa Ochaya was due to travel to Libya where he works as a nursing officer. He shared his frustration with DW. "They are telling us that booklets are over, that we should wait for two months and yet for us we want them in just one week," Ochaya complained.
Ochaya said his case was very urgent. "I understand that there are books which are there, they should work on us first, and then later look at other people," he added. Among those affected were people who had already paid for express passports, which are normally, charged twice the usual amount. It is at times like these that corrupt officials take advantage of desperate applicants.