It’s official for all Zimbabweans seeking passports that they might just have to wait until 2021 to do so. This is because the country has run out of papers and ink to print them.
The situation has become necessary due to the shortages of foreign currency as the country has no adequate funds to import the ink, paper and other materials needed to print the passports.
So far, officials at the passport office in Harare say that the office is printing only five to 10 passports a day with documents reserved for diplomats or the few “special cases” approved by the country’s minister of home affairs.
They added that the office hopes to have cleared its backlog of more than 300,000 applications by 2021 before it can begin processing new passport applications.
Zimbabwe recently banned the use of the U.S. dollar and other local transactions in foreign currencies as part of moves to protect its new interim currency.
In 2009, Zimbabwe had one of the worst economic times in the country, caused by hyperinflation and other failed economic interventions.
With the economy of the country facing some of its all-time worst times, many Zimbabweans are looking to relocate from the country to more advanced economies of the world.
Only last month, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate reached almost 100%, the second highest in the world after Venezuela.
Rampant inflation has seen the cost of basic goods skyrocketing beyond the reach of many as commodities have gone up by close to 10 times since late last year when the economy began to nosedive.
Highly skilled and semiskilled Zimbabweans have been leaving the country for decades moving to nearby South Africa or Botswana or far away to Britain and the U.S. in search of greener pastures.
Now, even more Zimbabweans want to leave as they are unable to find jobs in the moribund economy.
However, plans by citizens to leave the country are being met with a brick wall for especially those desperate to acquire travel documents. Already, there are many people who are seeking these travel documents to enable them seek medical attention particularly as the country’s health sector has almost collapsed with state hospitals lacking medicines and medical equipment.
A wheelchair-bound patient who was in a queue at the passport office told Business Day that he now feared death after he was unsuccessful in getting his travel documents despite presenting a recommendation letter from his doctor explaining the urgency of his predicament.
“I need to undergo emergency surgery in India. My passport has expired and I was supposed to be in India two weeks ago but I have not been able to travel because I have no passport. I do not know what to do. Maybe they just want me to die here,” he said.
Human rights activists are concerned about the situation which has degenerated into a humanitarian crisis.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has described the passport crisis as “one of the major human rights challenges affecting the country”.
“The commission will inquire into and determine the root causes and factors which prevent easy access to identity documents, particularly passports, and to assess the impact of documentation by individuals and groups on the enjoyment of human rights, guaranteed under the constitution, national laws and relevant international and regional treaties and instruments,” the ZHRC said in a statement.
The commission also said it had invited written and oral submissions from stakeholders and the public by not later than July 31 to record grievances against the passport-issuing office.
Already, the country is recording long queues at the passport offices with many sleeping over at the offices for days or weeks just to submit their applications for the travel documents. Following that, they still have to wait another long period, even as long as 2021 to have those documents ready for them to pick up.