MRP Server Exhausts Capacity: Passport delivery stumbles
The passport authorities sat on upgrading the MRP server that had crossed the 30-million limit in early June, causing delay in reissuing passports to tens of thousands of Bangladeshis, mostly migrants in the Gulf and Southeast Asian countries.
It has left the migrants at risk of becoming undocumented or delayed their process to become regular, migrant workers and activists have said.
The issue came to the fore in the last couple of weeks as the migrants made numerous complaints about it -- at a time when they are facing joblessness and uncertainty over life and livelihood abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP) Director General Major General Mohammad Ayub Chowdhury said the system for machine readable passports (MRPs) requires upgrades from time to time.
"Steps have already been taken to upgrade the server and we will extend the contract with the Malaysian company concerned," he told The Daily Star on Sunday.
Passports against pending applications will be printed and delivered once the system is upgraded, he said, without giving any timeframe.
DIP Director Shihab Uddin Khan said they had a target of introducing e-passports within 2020, but their officials could not go to the Bangladesh missions abroad to put the e-passport systems in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"That's why the pressure on the MRP server increased and its limit of three crore applications crossed," he said on Monday.
Shihab said the DIP has already signed a new contract with the Malaysian company, IRIS Corporation, for an additional 60 lakh passports and the server will be upgraded at the soonest.
Sources in the home ministry and DIP, meanwhile, said the capacity of the server exhausted in early June but neither IRIS nor the DIP took initiatives to address it in time.
"No passports were printed in the last four weeks," a source said on Saturday.
The Bangladesh high commissions in Malaysia, Singapore, Maldives, and Lebanon even issued circulars saying there was a shortage of passport supply due to a technical issue in the MRP server.
On July 30, the Bangladesh High Commission in Singapore issued a notice on its Facebook page, saying the renewed passports of those who had applied after June 8, had not reached the southeast country. It requested the passport seekers to wait until further notice.
The Bangladesh High Commission in Malaysia on August 7 in a circular said a huge number of applications were in the pipeline as "the capacity of the server at the Department of Immigration and Passport has died out."
The high commission said this was beyond its jurisdiction and that the home ministry and the DIP were trying to address it.
A Bangladesh embassy official in Riyadh told The Daily Star that they wrote to the DG of DIP several months back, detailing the problems the migrants were facing for the delay in passport delivery and requesting a quick supply of passports, but there was no solution.
Against this backdrop, Bangladeshi migrants have expressed sheer frustration and anger.
They said more than one crore Bangladeshi migrants send home annually $18 billion remittance, keeping the country's economy vibrant, but their concerns are not being addressed by the authorities on an urgent basis.
Waheed Nizam from Malaysia said it was taking four to six months to get passports while the migrants were passing days in uncertainty and in fear of detention by Malaysian police.
"With no timely passport delivery, many of us are not able to apply for work permit renewals. Some are even not being able to apply for the recalibration programme [amnesty] meant for the undocumented ones," he told The Daily Star by phone.
Rashidul Islam, a Bangladeshi in Singapore, said it was a matter of huge concern that they were not getting passports even three to four months after submitting applications.
A Bangladeshi migrant in Saudi Arabia said they were not able to have their iqamas (residency permits) renewed due to long delays in getting passports from the embassy.
Apart from the pressure on the MRP server and delays due to the pandemic, some officials of the Bangladesh missions said, another factor could be that passport brokers or the migrants might not have filed online applications properly.
Mohammad Harun Al Rashid, a migrant rights activist in Malaysia, said it was beyond imagination why the DIP was not able to identify the fact that the three-crore limit of the server had crossed and why it did not take actions beforehand.
"Now, lots of problems have arisen. Migrants could be detained because many of them could not renew work permits. If they are arrested or they lose their jobs, who will compensate them?"
Usually, Bangladeshi migrants face various forms of abuse by the brokers, agents and are often denied state services. This time, it is the DIP whose negligence is directly affecting the migrants, he said.
They have a right to know actually what created the mess in passport reissuance, Harun further said and demanded those affected be compensated and those responsible be brought under investigation.