Electronic passport relief for thousands of Sudanese expatriates



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.

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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