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Desperate Afghans sleep in garbage bags to survive icy winter nights in long wait outside passport offices

Representational image. Crowds throng outside the Passport Office in Kabul

The pictures of Afghans who have “packed” themselves in huge garbage plastic bags to hole up in minus 6 degree temperatures as they wait in long queues outside passport offices, shared by the Pulitzer award winner Afghan photo-journalist Masoud Hossaini are yet another shocking reality of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime.

“These are not garbage bags! Afghanistan’s citizens use big plastic bags to sit or sleep in, while waiting in a line to apply / receive a passport in Kabul. Look what the Taliban have  brought for the people,” wrote Hossaini while sharing the picture on social media.

The picture is the same in front of the 15 Passport offices in different provincial capitals of the country which were to become operational as the Taliban had announced last week. But so far they are still to start functioning. Thousands of Afghans have been waiting for documents that would let them leave the country as large crowds continue to gather outside these centres.

“They are there 24×7 waiting for the centres to open. Last night the Taliban fighters opened fire at the waiting crowds, several have been injured but people are refusing to leave. They are so desperate to leave the country,” says Kabir Haqmal, local Afghan journalist.

Without passports, it is not possible to leave the country.

Amid the harsh winter, with no jobs as the country is in an economic crisis, the crowds around the passport offices reflect the dire situation.

"We have done our best to reopen the office but we are still facing some equipment shortages," passport office head Alam Gul Haqqani told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.

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Last month the passport offices were forced to close after equipment used for issuing biometric documents broke down under the pressure of processing thousands of applications a day but demand has built steadily.

Even though passport offices have been closed, hundreds of people still gather outside and are regularly beaten back from the crash barriers by Taliban security forces.

According to Alam Gul Haqqani, more than 25000 applications were under process when the equipment broke down and another 1,75,000 applications are still pending. Another problem is that the Taliban have ordered new passport booklets with their logo which are yet to arrive.

But the main problem is that most of the trained employees have left the country and the Taliban are looking for experts to run the system.

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