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Passport offices reopening leads to significant overcrowding and subsequent reclosure

With some having waited over a year for a new passport, the reopening of passport offices in Kabul led to several days of chaos. Their reclosure means Afghans seeking to exit the country must revert to the unreliable online application process.


19 Feb 2024

Image credit: Ariana Television

On 9 January 2024, Abdul Karim Haseeb, the Taliban’s General Directorate of Passports, announced on X (formerly Twitter) that in-person registration and distribution of passports would open to the public in Kabul the following day. He said that while the online process of registering for passports had been running smoothly for the past year – a claim disputed by many users – the opening of physical offices would make it possible for those without internet access to apply for a passport. Additionally, he claimed that the passport department was planning to resume in-person registration in other provinces. However, some outlets reported this would only happen in the absence of excessive crowding. 


Following the announcement, crowds amassed near the passport office in Kabul, as well as in other provinces, including Herat, Helmand, Wardak, Bamiyan and Samangan, demonstrating the eagerness of the Afghan public to obtain valid travel documents. Disruptions possibly also occurred in Faryab and Paktia, due to the posting of special schedules to register for a passport in-person. 


Ariana News, an Afghan news channel, shared a video of a reporter talking to people queuing outside the Kabul passport office. The footage shows thousands of people lined up for hundreds of metres; armed Taliban members and vehicles can also be seen.

Figure: Large queues of people waiting outside the Kabul passport office [34.500625, 69.138164].

Mass overcrowding indicates desire for emigration  

Various news organisations reported on the queues outside the Kabul passport office and people’s motivations for attempting to obtain a new passport.

One issue that was highlighted was access to international employment. One Kabul resident told the Exile TV Network: 

“I will say goodbye to this country forever. There is no job opportunity here, and I feel like a prisoner here. They would not issue your passport easily. You saw that around 80,000 people had come here to get a passport.”

Another key issue that Kabul residents raised was the Taliban’s ban on women's education. 

Afghanistan International and Aamaj News both received and shared videos showing that many of those queuing outside the Kabul passport office were women. Many of these women had reportedly camped overnight or arrived in the early morning. Moreover, RFE/RL interviewed a woman who said she was trying to travel abroad so that she could study internationally; she said that she had been trying to acquire a passport since last year.

Reports of poor conditions and Taliban using violence to disperse crowds

Tolo News reported that passport applicants claimed that severe overcrowding, long queues, and cold weather resulted in some applicants dying while trying to obtain a passport. An anonymous eyewitness, quoted by 8am media, said that they had seen the bodies of three women who had died while trying to obtain a passport; the outlet also reported that people had been trampled to death. AW has been unable to verify these claims.


There have also been claims of the Taliban using violence to disperse crowds. In one video, a Taliban member can be seen beating people on the street, thought to be passport applicants, with a stick. Although the video appears to be recent, AW investigators were unable to verify the video; however AW investigators note that alleged Taliban members have been seen using similar tactics against passport applicants in the past. Another video was accompanied by claims that the Taliban used tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd in Kabul. However, AW investigators believe that, based on the spread of the gas cloud, crowd behaviour, and the stream of gas turning on and off[1], the device being used was likely a fire extinguisher.

Additional accusations of corruption and cronyism adding to delays

Amid the chaos, there were also allegations of cronyism at the passport offices, with some applicants claiming that those with acquaintances within the General Directorate of Passports received preferential treatment. For example, in Kabul, one passport applicant claimed: 

“Passports were being distributed to people who had acquaintances inside the directorate and they were identified and prioritised from the end of the line and those who although they were standing at the top of the line but had no friends and acquaintance, they could not get a passport.”

Moreover, an applicant in Samangan claimed: “Only people who have money can get a passport.” 

The Taliban have also been accused of throwing out passport application forms. A video posted on X shows women trying to recover their application forms that were submitted to the passport office, but were allegedly subsequently discarded by Taliban staff members. 

Despite these claims, Abdul Matin Qanunii, the spokesperson of the General Directorate of Passports, denied all allegations of corruption in relation to the reopening of in-person passport offices. 


Reclosure leaves options for exit limited

After eleven days of overcrowding, and passport offices across several provinces being overwhelmed, the Taliban’s General Directorate of Passports announced that in-person registration for passports would close as of 21 January 2024. The announcement said that passports would still be issued to people who apply online, and that additional capacity would be added across the country, including by opening four more passport offices in Kabul. This is significant as it means a return to the previous online application method which had proved slow and unreliable, restricting people’s ability to leave the country, to emigrate for work and education, and to travel. Moreover, the return to online services disproportionately impacts poorer and more rural groups who lack access to the internet. Overall, the reopening and subsequent overcrowding at passport offices suggests that the Taliban likely underestimated the demand for in-person passport services; as a result, the de facto authorities lacked capacity to effectively manage residents’ eagerness to secure travel documents, and returned to a more restricted means of administering passport registration and distribution services.


[1] Tear gas canisters cannot be turned on and off. 

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