Friday, June 14, 2024

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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

'I feel like I will die in this queue'

For the old and infirm, getting a passport is a harrowing affair

Update : 14 Oct 2022, 05:36 PM

Growing old is a certainty in life. Falling sick is a certainty in life. But for the old and infirm, improved service at the passport office is not a certainty.

The requirement that even old and infirm people must physically go to the passport office to be fingerprinted has made exhausting queues and acute discomfort a certainty.

The only exception is for passport applicants who have been hospitalized. They may benefit from a home visit by a biometric team—if their request to the Home Ministry is approved.

“I feel like I will die in this queue and never get to India. Getting my surgery seems like a dream … my physical condition is getting worse every day,” Kamrun Nahar, 68, said.

She was sitting under a tree outside the office, attempting to cool herself with a hand fan. Clearly uncomfortable from the heat, she needs to go to India for a heart operation.

Bring your own wheelchair

Long queues and a lack of proper sitting arrangements have turned the passport office in Dhaka’s Agargaon into a waking nightmare for the elderly and people with physical disabilities.

The office includes a booth that is supposedly dedicated for elderly passport applicants, but a recent visit there found that most who were waiting at the booth were young or middle-aged. A small sitting area for the elderly had far too few seats considering the massive crowd of people who were waiting to reach the counter.

The office also includes a ramp to improve wheelchair accessibility, but applicants are required to bring their own wheelchairs.

On the day of the visit to the passport office, 72-year-old Fazlul Haque was waiting in line with his 65-year-old wife, who is a cancer patient. They needed passports to go to India for her treatment.

Fazlul had reached the passport office at 9am after paying Tk13,600 to the bank to get the two passports through the Super Express service. However, he was still waiting in line at the specified counter without having submitted his application more than two hours later.

His wife had resorted to sitting by the counter after growing exhausted and failing to find an empty seat.

Staff members of the passport office said booth 101 on the ground floor was reserved for the elderly, but this correspondent found people of all ages waiting at the booth.

A similar situation was seen at the booths for the sick and people with disabilities, with only 20 or 30 out of the over a hundred applicants at the booths meeting the criteria.

There were only 15 to 20 seats for all the waiting applicants.

According to the National Policy on Older Persons 2013, people over the age of 60 years are considered elderly in Bangladesh. They constitute about 7.5% of the country’s population.

When will things improve?

Md Saidul Islam, director (passport, visa & inspection) of the Department of Immigration and Passports Dhaka, said senior citizens currently have to physically go to the office in order to provide their fingerprints.

“There is no real alternative to physically being there for the fingerprint at the moment. People have to be present for the fingerprint, regardless of age,” he said.

A mobile team is available to collect fingerprints from outside the office, but they only do so for applicants who are hospitalized. They also only provide the service after a special application is sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“We have proposed to the Ministry of Home Affairs to smooth out the passport hassles of senior citizens. More mobile teams may be an option, but this is all still being discussed at the policy-making level. We do not have any information on when any changes may be implemented,” the official added.

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