Electronic passport relief for thousands of Sudanese expatriates

Dubai mission to be first in the world to produce high-tech travel documents

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DUBAI // Sudan's new electronic passports will be created outside the country for the first time - at the Sudanese Consulate in Dubai.

The passports have been mired in complications since they were introduced in 2009, said ambassador Mohammed Al Hassan Ibrahim, the head of mission at the Sudanese Consulate General in Dubai. Those problems have delayed their availability at embassies around the world.

"Now, the passports will be available here by the end of this month and issued from the beginning of September," he said.

The new passports contain a chip that stores the holder's information. The Dubai consulate now has the necessary machines and materials to produce the passports, and are awaiting for final technical clearances. "We are expecting a large influx of residents from across the GCC as we will be the first mission to produce them," he said. "We will handle applications from the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia."

In addition to the passport, Sudanese citizens will also be able to obtain their National Identification Number, currently only obtainable from the Sudanese Ministry of Interior in Khartoum.

The National Identification Number, the Sudanese equivalent of an Emirates ID, was made mandatory in 2010 and is required on most government applications.

English naming conventions were to blame for the first problems the new Sudanese passport had, the consul general said.

"The first batches produced between May 2009 and 2010 were registered with only partial English names while the Arabic names were placed fully," he said.

"Officially, Sudanese passports register the first name, father's name, the grandfather's name and the family name," he said. "However, human error at the early stages registered only the first and last name and those passports were issued in large numbers," he said.

American authorities in the UAE have refused to issue visas to Sudanese citizens who hold passports with the naming error.

Hashim Abdel Aziz was hoping to attend his daughter's graduation in the US this summer but his family was refused a visa because of the mistake in the passport.

"I previously applied and obtained a US visa with the passport. However, recently my family and I were asked by the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi to obtain new passports," Mr Abdel Aziz said.

"I had to gain special permission from the head of immigration in Sudan and fly back there to get an old-style passport for one of my daughters to travel, and my wife has abstained from travelling due to the huge process we have to go through."

Jeffrey Ladenson, a spokesman for the US Embassy, explained: "The United States Embassy in Abu Dhabi and US Consulate in Dubai must adhere to international standards for passport information. Specifically, under US law, we are unable to place a United States visa in a passport that does not contain the full legal name of the applicant in English."

He said applicants who had passports that did not adhere to that standard would have to apply to Sudan for new documents before any visa could be issued.

Sudanese expatriates with passports issued from the first batch are advised to visit the Dubai consulate to rectify the issue, Mr Ibrahim said.

Another problem with the new passport, the consul general said, was that it did not contain any job titles, which meant Sudanese expatriates may not be able to travel freely between GCC countries.

"We do not include job titles in the new passports from the belief of equality. However, we are currently resolving the issue with the GCC governments who demand that the job title of the passport holder to be included," he said.

The old booklet-style passport has been discontinued and only a few are available at Sudanese missions across the world.

"We keep a few old booklets for emergency situations," he said. "We have stopped issuing any passports with the booklets for applicants in the UAE," he said.

There are three versions of the new electronic passport: a citizen's passport containing 48 pages and valid for five years, a commercial passport for frequent travellers containing 64 pages and valid for seven years and a 32-page passport issued to children.

A new passport for adults will cost approximately Dh295 and Dh145 for students.