In 2020, the Nigerian Embassy in Vietnam requested for the services of the Nigerian Immigration attaches in Malaysia and Thailand to help with renewal of passports in Vietnam. In 2019, that would have been a straightforward request. Not anymore.
The attaches refused to go because they did not want to spend three weeks in quarantine doing nothing or risk contracting the coronavirus. Vietnam has a travel policy of 21 day quarantine for travellers.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Nigerians in Vietnam have been unable to renew their passports. Kunglao (not his real name), a software developer whose passport, has expired said without a passport he can’t get anything done in Vietnam.
Kungalo told FIJ that a passport is needed to rent a house, to have a job, to conduct bank transactions and to even live in the country.
“A passport is needed for everything, to keep track of everything,” he said.
Foreigners in Vietnam have to register with the Vietnamese police. This way, everything they do is tracked. Without a valid passport, they risk losing everything. Without valid passports, Nigerians can’t renew their visas. The police first notifies the job or resident sponsor of the invalid passport, and an individual has to pay a fine of up to $200 per day if their visa expires.
However due to Covid-19 and travel restrictions, Nigerians in Vietnam have been unable to travel to the Nigerian Embassies in Malaysia, which is two hours 30 minutes away, or Thailand, which is an hour away.
On the website of the Nigerian Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam, it is stated: “The Mission does not have a passport issuing desk. However, passport intervention exercises are being conducted periodically in Ho Chi Min City and Hanoi by immigration officers from our Mission in Malaysia. Applicants will be notified accordingly of this exercises through our website.”
A quick search by FIJ showed a Twitter user, AmattahO, had equally complained of how Nigerians in Vietnam were out of jobs due to lack of passport renewal. He said in a series of tweets, “Is it not a disgrace that Nigeria is the only country in Vietnam that is facing this kind of issues. Ghanaians, Ugandans, Zimbabweans, Kenyans etc., are having a seamless renewal without issues even when their embassies are at neighbouring countries around Vietnam
“I made this awareness since November 2020 when my passport was still active and tagged all concerned and till date nothing has been done. What kind of patience will you tell me to have again? What is the function of our embassies apart from $50 notarization fee?
“We are Nigerian patriotic citizens who are proud of our country and our country just failed us when we needed them most. No much work in Nigeria and we came here for greener pastures, which we have gotten and we just lost because of expired passport
“What time are you talking about when many of us here in Vietnam are out of job, banking system, accommodation and risk deportation just because Nigerian Immigration failed to renew our expired passports? We have two embassies here without passports desk. It is bad in all ramifications
We see changes soon when 100 legally working Nigeria citizens are out of their job because of expired passport? We are out of accommodation because of our expired passports. I made this known to the concerned body since November 2020 and till now, nothing has been done.”
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, responded by asking him to send a message to the Immigration. “Everything is being done by Immigration service to sort all passport issues,” she said.
However, members of the Nigerian community in Vietnam are still unable to renew their passports.
Before Covid-19, some Nigerians took a 22 hours flight back to the country to renew their passport. The availability of flights has been a major challenge, with cancellation happening some days to the date of departure. When the story of a Nigerian who was denied entry back to Vietnam due to Covid circulated, many went to the embassy for a temporary solution. The Embassy issued them with letters that could be shown to Vietnamese authorities asking for an extension of visas till the end of November. Vietnamese authorities are however only extending visas by a month to three months.
James Sunday, spokesman of the Nigerian Immigration Service, told FIJ he is in charge of the team that is to help Nigerians in Vietnam with passport renewal.
“Due to Covid-19, there is nobody that will risk his life to go to a place at this material time. Passports can wait, life cannot wait,” he said.
“There is no other way passport renewals can take place without the physical presence of an immigration officer since Nigeria Immigration Service does not issue passports in proxy for security reasons.
“I am supposed to lead the team that is going to Vietnam, and I’m aware I’m going with three officers. Once we are cleared and the atmosphere is clear for us to go to Vietnam, we will go there.”
When FIJ inquired about the duration it would take for the intervention to take place, Sunday said, “Please talk with the World Health Organization; if they can stop the issue of Covid-19 we are ready to go.”
He said it is an issue of health and no officer would risk their lives by going to Vietnam.
However, in contradiction to the statement by the PRO, Nigerian immigration officers have daily interactions with passengers flying in and out of the country.
“All those protocols will have to wait until we are able to get clearance that we can get into Vietnam without actually going through quarantine,” Sunday said. “Nobody will risk his life to go into a country that is having a shutdown for now.”
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