When Ethiopian immigration and nationality authorities opened an office in Jigjiga last year, many Somalis in the Somali Regional State celebrated the move because it was a first. Despite being the second largest region and the third most populous in Ethiopia, it was the first time the authorities opened a branch office in SRS. But the celebration was short lived. Instead of facilitating the obtainment of the passport for the citizens, it placed even more hurdles before them.

For starters, the applicants are asked why they need a passport in the first place. It turns out that knowing the exact reason for demanding a passport is a key condition in the process. Even that isn’t enough. Apparently, only a few predetermined reasons are allowed for demanding a passport. 

One of them is that the applicant is a government employee attending an international meeting abroad. In other words, civil servants traveling to represent their bureaus abroad can apply for the document. But even being a civil servant isn’t enough. The applicant must bring an endorsement letter from his bureau proving that he is indeed traveling on its behalf.

This is absurd and bureaucratic beyond logic. What if the time window of the meeting is so short that applying for and receiving the document cannot be completed before the event’s schedule? This awkward requirement denies the civil servants of the region the participation of international meetings and conferences.

Another purpose one can apply for a passport is attending education abroad. Again this isn’t enough. When students apply for passports, they are simply asked to show a university admission. This is ridiculous and illogical demand. The criteria for applying and receiving admission from scholarship providers and international universities include submitting your passport in the first place. This is so because they want to prove the identity and nationality of the applicant. Otherwise you will not be accepted. Despite this fact, the immigration authorities ask for admissions. How can someone without a passport get an admission? 

This unfortunate and regrettable condition denies Somali students many scholarship opportunities every year. It is unjust and discriminatory requirement that must be removed.

Another reason one can apply for the document is that the applicant needs to go abroad for medical reasons. In other words, patients in need of medical treatment abroad can apply for the document. But again that isn’t enough. The authorities ask the patient applicant to bring a recommendation letter from a medical board from a hospital proving that the patient needs a treatment abroad.

However the hospitals in SRS are underdeveloped and they don’t have medical boards that can issue such a letter. Therefore, the Somali patients are virtually unable to get a passport for medical purposes.

It is mind boggling that the immigration and nationality authority puts these incapacitating conditions and obstacles before the citizens of a whole region while their compatriots enjoy all sorts of constitutional rights.

A passport is an essential document that every citizen has the right to hold it regardless of whether he intends to travel abroad or not. The fact that someone is a citizen of the country automatically qualifies him to obtain it. A passport is like any other national document such as national IDs, birth certificates, driving licenses or academic certificates. There mustn’t be any obstacle preventing the citizen from owning it. Yet citizens of Somali region are regularly and systematically denied of this basic constitutional right.

The importance of a passport is to travel abroad and prove one’s identity. Applying for it mustn’t be tied to whether you intend to travel abroad or not. It is unrealistic to wait until there is a reason to travel to apply for it. You probably don’t know when and for what reason you will need it. So it is commonsense that you own it beforehand. After all, it is a constitutional right.

The citizens of SRS have historically borne the brunt of systematic and institutionalized injustices that led to the underdevelopment, human rights violations, marginalization and negligence of the region and its people. The people of SRS have constantly experienced differential treatment. They have been and are treated as though they are second class citizens.

Ethiopia claims that SRS is an Ethiopian territory and the region’s people are Ethiopian citizens. Yet it systematically discriminates against them. This leads the people to be alienated more and more. They feel they are unwanted guests despite being on their land. They are considered to be less Ethiopian than others.

The people of the region hold the conviction that Ethiopia wants their land and the resources under it but doesn’t want the people.

The differential treatment in giving the passport is only the tip of the iceberg of far more injustices that are regularly committed against the Somalis.

This double standard and differential treatment must end. If Ethiopia wants Somalis to feel Ethiopian and that they have equal rights in this country, it must give them equal treatment like other Ethiopians. And the passport problem should be the first to be addressed. Otherwise the Somalis will ever be alienated and will seek other alternatives for determining their fate.

SR News