When Elizabeth planned to renew her passport and acquire one for her new bundle of joy, nothing prepared her for the brutal experience ahead.
This is because she had been served before at the immigration department, which is located at Nyayo House in Nairobi, and did not have much complaints.
“I have been at the immigration years ago and the service was not bad. When I wanted to renew my passport and get one for my baby I was told by friends and people who have recently sought services at the immigration, that I needed to be there very early or else things would be tough for me, because it is hectic,” says Elizabeth.
She got the shock of her life when at 9am, on her first visit, the officers manning the queues told everyone who had received a ticket number to leave because they could not be served.
So she hatched a plan. On Wednesday, she left her house in Kiambu town at 4:30am and made for Nyayo House. But Elizabeth is not your ordinary applicant: with her was her three-month-old baby, well wrapped in blankets.
When we caught up with her at 5am, she was not first on the queue. It was dark and chilly. Hundreds of Kenyans had already queued up waiting for the doors of the immigration department to be opened at 6am.
They had come to either apply, renew or collect their passports. Men and women were queued in two separate lines. For Elizabeth, the warm clothes and blankets helped keep the cold away. With every passing minute, more people continued to trickle in taking their positions in the line.
“This has now become the norm at immigration, I was told by a friend that if I wanted anything done and not waste my time waiting at immigration for the whole day, is that I should be here as early as 5am. Personally, I was here by 4:30am,” said a woman standing in line who requested anonymity.
At 6am, the administration police officers open the gates. The crowd gushes in past the security check.
Inside, the melee continues. Renewing or applying for a passport has become tedious and scary. Kenyans shudder at the thought of making a trip to Nyayo House because of the endless stories on the painful service.
Florence Naliaka says she left Ngong town at 4am. Her case was different because she had gone to collect her passport.
Despite her effort of coming in early, she still returned home dejected after the officers told her that her passport was still being processed.
“Wameniambia nikuje tena in two weeks. I applied for the passport last year in November nikaambiwa nirudi after 15 working days na sahii imekuwa zaidi na sijapata,” said Ms Florence.
On the queue too was Jack who did not have his documents because he had left them at work. And being 5am, he could not access them because they had yet to open for the day.
“I just decided to come here early and queue so I can secure my position and get a number ticket before I rush back to the office and get my documents then come back,” says Jack.
Political activist Scheaffer Okore was also among those who vented online on the poor service being experienced at the Immigration department.
“Nairobi Passport application process begins at dawn a night runner’s marathon Collection process another marathon surely, is there anything humane about this process? Why is this a survivor episode WHY? Are ppl too many, are workers few, are computers slow what is it??” wrote Ms Okore on Twitter.
“We really need to stop accepting this kind of service where you waste a whole day to get just one thing done in a public office. This isn’t what service is supposed to be it’s not professional in any kind of way. And then people are angry they’ve been waiting for hours only to be told to come back tomorrow for their passports… look at this inefficiency!!! Public service is so deplorable in this country.”
Earlier this month The Immigration Department came under fire online after Kenyans protested the stringent requirements set out to applicant of the new e-passport.
Nairobi News reached out to Immigration Principal Secretary Gordon Kihalangwa but he did not pick our calls. He also did not respond to two text messages sent to his phone.