I used to hear about how ordinary Nepali passport bearers were harassed for no reason in almost every immigration desk of major port of entries around the world. This undiplomatic harassment of Nepali passport bearers came into light on October 29, 2016 when Dr Baburam Bhattarai, ex-prime minister of Nepal, was detained by the immigration officers for about an hour in Hong Kong. He was travelling along with his wife and secretary using ordinary passports instead of diplomatic ones.
The incident was covered by many national and international media and was condemned by the foreign ministry of Nepal. It was just one of thousands cases of humiliating detention ordinary passport bearers go through around the globe for no apparent reason. When one of our ex-prime ministers can be detained for travelling on ordinary passport, the chances for a common citizen to travel hassle-free gets slimmed.
In one of my recent trips abroad, I had to go through the same situation. I was there to attend an international conference but had to encounter the detention first. The lady officer at the desk checked my visa, the invitation letter sent by the organizers in the host country and my past travel record. I answered all of her questions regarding my intention to visit that particular country and then she showed me the way to detention room.
“Why am I being sent to a detention room?” I asked her in utter confusion.
“Sir, you have to be thoroughly checked before we issue you an entry!” What she said confused me even more as I had a valid visa, all the necessary documents and didn’t look suspicious in any way to be detained.
“Where are you from?” another officer asked.
“Nepal” I replied.
“Why are you here?” he asked again. I replied I was there to attend an international conference and pulled out the invitation letter and the visa from my backpack.
“Why would your embassy issue me a visa if I had a criminal background or any wrong intent? This is humiliating!” I replied in frustration.
“This is a normal procedure sir! I am sorry for the inconvenience.” He then scanned through my passport and the documents. After spending almost 45 minutes in the room, answering unnecessary questions, I was finally allowed an entry.
This is the fate of most of us. Firstly, we have to line up in front of the embassy gates to face interview(s) with consulate officers. We pay a hefty amount for that even when it comes with a high uncertainly of getting approved, only to get harassed at the airport immigration because we bear a passport that is issued by the government body of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.
According to a report published by passportindex.org, Nepal was listed as the 88th most powerful passport in the world, alongside Sri Lanka, Eritrea and Yemen, allowing its bearers to travel visa free to 38 destinations out of 195 sovereign nations in the world. Germany tops the list as the most powerful passport bearing countries giving its bearers visa free or visa on arrival access to over 160 countries around the globe.
The question stands ‘Why is that passports of countries like Germany and most of the first world countries are so powerful yet ours so weak?’ Economic prosperity, state of security and diplomacy are some of the key factors which determines the passport power of any sovereign state. There are a lot of countries with stronger passport powers but weaker economy and state of security than that of our country. In such cases, diplomatic ability of any country becomes the key factor to determine its passport power.
Nepal maintains a tiny number of 29 embassies, three permanent UN missions and six consulates around the world in comparison to the growing presence of Nepalis around the globe. Our government needs to increase its presence—number of embassies and consulates as well as well-informed diplomatic staff—around the globe to serve its citizens efficiently. Unfortunately, our missions abroad and its staff have constantly failed to do so. It’s a very common practice in Nepal to appoint diplomatic staff including ambassadors under political quotas.
Lack of adequate funding for expansion, operations and maintenance of our missions abroad are some of the reasons why we have almost nil value and presence in the global diplomacy. There are a lot things that are affecting the diplomatic performance of Nepal globally and it is vital that we reshape our diplomatic approaches. It is also necessary that the authorities concerned stick to the stance in providing safe and hassle-free passage to its citizens in every corner of the world.
I can only hope there will come a time when every Nepali passport holder can travel without much hindrance and difficulty.
Pandey is a BSc Computing (Hons) student at Islington College and is also working as Event and Public Relations Representative at Clock b Business Innovations.