Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sudanese bureaucracy! I spend the better part of today chasing up after my travel permit. As avid news readers may be aware, the Sudanese government last year lifted some very cumbersome travel restrictions for aid workers here in Sudan in a gesture of goodwill - so now it's merely mindnumbingly difficult to move around, as opposed to completely impossible.

Here's how it works: you enter the country on a one-month visa. Immediately upon arrival you ask for a Darfur travel permit (usually pretty painless) and then leave your passport behind in Khartoum so that the one-month visa can be extended to a three-month one. This may take up to two months though, so you may find yourself visa-less and grounded in one place for a month if you're unlucky.

Once you arrive in Darfur, you need another travel permit for the location you want to reach (ie anywhere outside the state capital). This one varies from state to state, but in some places you will need a different permit for each camp; in some, one permit will be enough for a whole range of different areas.

Some permits are valid for a week, some for a month. Some three months, it's all fun and games trying to figure out what you are getting each time.

For some locations, like Port Sudan, you need a travel permit if you go by road, but not if you fly there!

And while you are busy worrying about travel permits (and photo permits, which I am told expire every don't even get me started on the idea of photo permits!) your three-month visa will probably already be expired again and you will need to get a new one. Which might take another two months. During which you cannot travel.

You even need a visa to leave the country. None of this just-showing-up-at-the-airport-last-minute deals. Even the exit visa can take several weeks, and it's not uncommon for people to miss their airplanes because someone at one of the dozen ministries that shuffle your papers has gone on holiday.

So today I wait for a travel permit in lieu of actually doing something useful with my time. I'm glad to know that there are at least some things this government seems to be taking seriously.

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