I suppose you’re thinking this is a hypothetical in which we’ll mull over what would happen in such an outrageous dystopian future. The sad reality is this is exactly what has just happened in Lebanon. Lebanon, the Middle Eastern country which has spent the last 50+ years stumbling from crisis to crisis has announced they have issued all the passports they had produced and didn’t have the funds to order more.
According to the General Security Organisation, who issues passports in Lebanon, the passports they had on hand had run out. Part of the explanation is that they have had a 1000% increase in the number of passport applications in the last 2 years. This includes those who are applying for new passports and those getting renewals. Over the previous 2 years they have averaged 8000 applications per day, which equates to roughly 5.8 million passport applications for a country which officially has a population of 6.8 million.
This makes a lot of sense considering the Lebanese pound has gone from 1500=1USD to 30000=1USD. Most of the country now only has electricity for a few hours a day. Unemployment is through the roof and according to a poll recently done 63% of Lebanese people want to permanently leave the country.
According to the world bank, this is the worst financial crisis Lebanon has ever experienced, including during the 20+ year long civil war. Huge numbers have already left which has seen the country’s population start dropping for the first time in decades. According to the World Health Organisation 40% of doctors and 30% of nurses have already left. Completely understandable when their government can’t even afford to pay for passports.
How did this happen? The answer to this question is simple. The company that is contracted to produce passports for the Lebanese government wasn’t paid, so they didn’t make any new ones. For years Lebanese have complained that their leaders had plundered the country, stealing everything that wasn’t bolted down, until finally it seems they literally have no money left.
What does that mean for those Lebanese wishing to leave the country, or even more simply, just wish to travel? Well this is a much more difficult question to answer. This isn’t the first time this has happened. In 2019 Zimbabwe ran out of passports and in 2016 and 2017 Uganda ran out of passports, which was due to unpaid bills by UK based passport producers. In these cases targeted aid was given which went to paying their unpaid bills.
In 2017 Venezuela ran out of the necessary paper and ink to produce passports. In the case of Venezuela, the Maduro government allowed existing passports to be extended while the necessary materials were acquired.
Lebanon is a little different though as the government can’t organise even the most basic services and whatever aid is directed towards the country will surely go to more vital services first such as food, medicine and other essential services. Until recently Lebanon was a transit point for Syrian and Palestinian refugees, but might now see their own people forced to take undocumented trips via land or sea.