Passport plague

Wednesday, 9 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Anyone who believes that Sri Lanka’s international reputation has improved magnificently by the end of the war has only to take a look at a recent study done on passports to know that such optimism needs to be taken with a large dose of salt. Government officials, off on overloaded junkets funded by public money, will not be aware of what little trust is placed in Sri Lankan passports and how minor the concessions provided for it are. So meagre are they that the Sri Lankan passport is among the 10 worst in the world. The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index, which is a global ranking of countries based on the freedom of travel for their citizens, saw Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom emerge as the world’s most coveted passports, with the least number of restrictions imposed on its holders, with a score of 173. This simply means that citizens of the above-mentioned three countries can travel to 173 countries without visa restrictions. The UAE gained eight ranks from the previous year (56th) and is the second best Arab country for affording visa-free travel to its citizens after the 52nd-ranked Kuwait. While Kuwaitis can travel visa-free to 77 countries, Emiratis can do so to 72 countries across the world. India is ranked at No. 74, and improved its position by six slots since last year’s rankings, with Indians allowed to travel visa-free to 52 countries. Afghanistan, which bottomed out as the country with most number of visa restrictions imposed on its passport holders, ranked at 93 with a score of 28, followed by Iraq at a rank of 92 and a score of 31, with and Pakistan and Somalia a mere spot away with a 32 score. The sub-continent wasn’t spared, with Nepal coming in the position of the fifth worst passport in the world, with a scorecard of 37; Sri Lanka came in at number six, sharing the spot with Kosovo, Sudan and Lebanon with a 38 scorecard. Most Sri Lankan travellers used to being fingerprinted and facing regular demands extra paperwork not requested from other tourists will not be surprised by this. In fact, with the exception of Singapore and Maldives, Sri Lankans require visa for every other destination and even for visa on arrival require letters to be presented at the check in counter before they are even allowed to board the plane. For those who would argue that Sri Lanka’s security and issue of illegal migrants might be the stumbling block, the study presents some interesting findings. Despite its recent political turmoil, both Libyan and Syrian passport holders fared better than its sub-continent counterparts with a score of 39 and a rank of 87 out of 93 countries listed. This clearly means that Sri Lankan officials have to concentrate harder on providing seamless travel for their citizens. Even countries such as China, with which Sri Lanka’s Government believes it has a rosy relationship, does not allow for free travel for individuals. They must travel with groups or provide a letter from an official source in China for travel approval. Failure to promote such basic access means a lopsided situation is created where outsiders can have access to Sri Lanka but the same freedom is not provided to perfectly honest citizens.