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Cash-strapped Lebanon runs out of passports

BEIRUT: The agency in charge of issuing passports in Lebanon said Thursday it has stopped taking appointments for renewals because of a rush that has depleted stocks of new passports. Since 2020, requests for passport renewals have been ten times higher than in previous years, which has piled pressure on passport centers and “affected available passport stocks,” General Security said in a statement.

Grappling with its worst-ever financial crisis, Lebanon has undergone a massive population exodus that is only worsening as politicians fail to chart a path towards recovery. Lebanese authorities have yet to pay for more passports to be produced “at a time when the available amount of passports has started to run out,” the agency added. “Accordingly, General Security was forced to stop work on the passport appointment platform as of 27 April,” it said, clarifying that those with pre-existing appointments are still eligible for new travel documents.

The suspension will last until funds are paid to the company contracted to issue new passports, it said, meaning those without existing appointments are left with no idea as to when they might get a new passport. Even those able to gain appointments have often had to wait months. According to an Arab Barometer survey published this month, around half of Lebanon’s population is looking to exit the country.

Education ’emergency’

Lebanon is grappling with an education “emergency,” a United Nations official said, as years of economic collapse weigh heavily on students and teachers. “We are now in an emergency situation. Education in Lebanon is in crisis because the country is living in crisis,” Maysoun Chehab of the UN education and culture body (UNESCO) told AFP.

She spoke on the sidelines of an event Monday celebrating the completion of a $35-million UNESCO project to rehabilitate 280 education centers damaged by a 2020 blast. The explosion caused by haphazardly stored fertilizer at Beirut port killed more than 200 people, destroyed swathes of the capital and disrupted the education of at least 85,000 youths.

UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay visited Beirut weeks later, driving efforts to restore heritage sites and damaged schools. Students and teachers now have brand new classrooms but they are still suffering from the twin effects of an unprecedented economic crisis in Lebanon and the coronavirus pandemic. Since late 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value, pushing most of the population into poverty.

Daily power cuts lasting more than 20 hours and soaring petrol prices mean many students can neither afford to reach their classes nor study from home. “Schools do not have enough funds to operate as they should, teachers do not have sufficient salaries to live in prosperity, students do not have transportation means due to high fuel prices,” said Chehab, UNESCO’s education chief for Lebanon. “This is all affecting the quality of education.”

The minimum wage once worth $450 is now valued at $28. The crisis has forced students to quit school or university to make ends meet. Enrolment in educational institutions slumped from 60 percent last year to 43 percent in the current academic year, a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report found. The cash-strapped state has been unable to enact substantial reforms, a requirement to access billions of dollars from international lenders. – AFP

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