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28.02.2006 Diaspora (Italy)

Passport Fees Saga in Italy

By Reggie Tagoe
Passport Fees Saga in Italy

… NPP wing tries to intervene The impasse between the Ghana Embassy in Rome and Ghanaians in Italy over passport fees increase has taken a new turn.

Backed by the Council of Ghanaian Nationals Association in Italy (COGNAI) the incensed Ghanaians were on the verge of going on a demonstration at the Ghana Mission against the increment after a situation in which they consider the Embassy and the Ghana government of not responding to their pleas to have the new fees reduced According to the President of COGNAI, Omari Somuah, letters from the Council to the Embassy, Speaker of Parliament in Ghana and the Minister of Foreign Affairs calling for a review of the fees have failed to yield and meaningful result.

COGNAI said it has even sent a reminder yet the authourities remain adamant and did not even acknowledge receiving those letters.

The Embassy insists it has no hand in the increment and the decision was taken as a result of directive from the Ghana government.

The Ghana Embassy in Rome has since July 2005 increased renewal of Ghanaian passport from €115 to €200. Ghanaians resident in the country are to pay €300 against previous fee of €215 and missing passport can cost €500. All other fees on documentation are up by 100%.

In the latest development on the issue COGNAI met representatives of the various Associations in Modena for the final countdown of the demonstration but a group of Ghanaians who described themselves as NPP wing based in Brescia, Italy intervened and promised to help resolve the friction between the Embassy and COGNAI.

The group of four led by George Annor were present at the meeting were almost all the Associations representatives across the country were present. The President of the Council described the stand taken by the Embassy headed by the Ambassador, His Excellency – Dr. Kofi Selby-Dzane, as unfortunate resulting in reporting the Council to the Italian police.

Earlier, the Secretary of COGNAI, Gilbert Abasimi has told the meeting how a group of Italian police came to the Council's headquarters in the northern city of Vicenza demanding to know who and the purpose of organising a demonstration against the Ghana Embassy in Rome. Abasimi said he produced a copy of documentation fees being charged at various Ghana Missions in Europe compared to the Embassy in Rome to the police and further explained the decision to embark on the demonstration did not come directly from him but a collective decision of all Ghanaians Associations in Italy. According to the Secretary the police left and has since not come back.

The President of the Council expressed his surprise against what he referred to as steps being taken by the Embassy to prevent Ghanaians in Italy from protesting against injustice and cheating on the part of the authorities. Relating the issue to a father and son relation, the President is of the view if the son is bent on going at length in protest of something against the father the right thing to do is sit him down and find a way of resolving the problem than to resort to threats and intimidation which would not help. The NPP wing leader, Annor, addressed the meeting noting that they share the plight of Ghanaians in Italy calling for the fees to be reduced. The NPP party he says is a party of peace and would not sit unconcerned and allow relation between the two entities to be marred. He promised the party wing would consult the Embassy and mediate on the issue. The Council and representatives arrived at a decision to give the mediators a period of time to report to the Council on any development or the demonstration would go ahead.

Some aggrieved Ghanaians questioned the identity of the NPP functionaries and said their action was a ploy by the government and the Embassy to diffuse the tension and anger among Ghanaians in Italy over the increment and the attempt would make the demonstration loose its momentum.

Meanwhile scores of Ghanaians in the country go to the Embassy daily to renew their passport. It's estimated that 20,000 Ghanaian passports in Italy would expire between September 2005 and July 2006. This will fetch the government of Ghana €1,7million considering only the extra increment of €85 on each passport. According to COGNAI 6,000 of these passports has already been renewed with the new fees being charged.

Indications are the Embassy is having a difficult time coping with the numerous applications for new passports, renewals, and other documents. Many of the Ghanaians are reluctant to wait for the outcome of resolving the issue on the increment and continue to renew their passport explaining that as much as they are with COGNAI on the protest their permit stay in Italy are about to or have expired and the Italian authourities would only renew it if they have a valid passport.

Majority of Ghanaians in Italy are based in the north of the country and the return journey to the Embassy in Rome (in the south) which would cost them additional €200 to €300 is a worrying factor. They claim the Embassy is not renewing or issuing new passport on the same day the application is put in which means they have to make a second journey to collect the passport thus losing two days of their wages added to the difficulty in obtaining permission from their employers.

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