Update on Feb. 2: The Peninsula has reported that the Syrian embassy has since stopped accepting passport renewal applications out of concern that the travel documents would not be accepted internationally.
The Syrian embassy in Doha, which represents officials opposed to President Bashar Al Assad, has begun renewing the passports of its nationals living in Qatar, a diplomatic spokesperson has said.
Along with enabling Syrians who are living in Qatar with expired passports to travel to other countries, the move gives additional legitimacy to the National Syrian Coalition and illustrates the ongoing financial and logistical support it has gotten from Qatar.
Previously, only embassies affiliated with the Assad government could issue or renew passports to Syrians abroad, according to Nasr Abu Nabot, the first secretary at the Syrian embassy in Qatar.
He told Doha News that this presented problems for many Syrians, especially those suspected of having ties or sympathies to the opposition.
He alleged that in many cases, government diplomats in other countries would demand exorbitant processing fees or confiscate their documents outright.
“Syrians living outside Syria are suffering,” he said.
The Doha embassy, which opened in 2013 as the National Syrian Coalition’s first foreign diplomatic mission, began accepting applications yesterday.
Syrian passports are typically issued with a six-year validity and can be renewed for up to four additional years.
Notably, the embassy in Doha is not issuing new passports. It can also currently only process applications from Syrians living in Qatar, although Nabot said he hopes to widen the service to those living elsewhere in the Gulf within two months and, eventually, the broader region.
“We will be working (toward issuing passports), but are happy with this first step because it helps solve some problems for a lot of Syrians living in Qatar,” he said.
He said embassy staff had been working on this measure for some time, receiving input from international authorities on creating a fraud-resistant renewal sticker that meets global standards.
Nabot added that his colleagues closely consulted with Qatari authorities, who provided financial assistance and security equipment to detect fraudulent documents.
This country has been a major supporter of the National Syrian Coalition, providing its fighters with weapons and cash, permitting protests in Doha against the Syrian government, denouncing Assad’s government in international forums and loosening immigration rules for Syrians fleeing the country.
There are an estimated 60,000 Syrians living in Qatar.
Nabot said his colleagues consulted with international legal experts and were told that the 114 countries that signed a 2012 accord, recognizing the National Syrian Coalition as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, were obliged to also recognize the travel documents the body issues.
The US, Qatar, the other Gulf countries as well as Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Libya were among those signatories during the so-called Marrakech Conference.
Prior to accepting applications, the National Syrian Coalition notified 52 countries as well as a half-dozen international organizations of its intentions.
Nabot confirmed that Canada informed the coalition that it would not recognize the extended passports because it was not one of the signatories of the 2012 accord.
A spokesperson for Canada’s foreign minister said at the time that Syria’s opposition must reject extremism and embrace minorities before Canada will recognize its legitimacy.
Some 21 applications were received on Thursday, but Nabot said many more people came to the embassy looking for additional information.
He said Syrians should visit the embassy’s Facebook page to download a passport renewal application.
Applicants must return the completed form to the embassy in person and bring with them:
- Their original passport, issued less than 10 years ago;
- A photocopy of their Qatar residence permit or visitor’s visa. If it’s the latter, a photocopy of their sponsor’s residency permit is also required;
- Three recent photographs, taken in front of a white background; and
- A copy of their Syrian ID, birth certificate or an identification document that can act as a substitute.
The cost is QR50 for each additional year of validity. Nabot said he expected turnaround times for the new passports to be between four business days and one week.