By Sailu Bah
The Public Relation Officer of the Gambia Immigration Department (GID) said the new bio-metric passport about to be introduced has more security features as it carries more data that link the holder to the document.
Cadet Inspector Saidou A.M. Bah said this in an interview with this reporter at his office in Banjul on Wednesday, 1st October 2014.
PRO Bah said the difference in the features of the new bio-metric passport and Machine Readable Passport (MRP), i.e. the old one, is that the former captures all the fingers of the holder scanned together with the iris (eye) while the latter does not. He said these changes in the new passport offer more security than the old one.
“With this new arrangement, the applicant is required to come in person to be able to provide the finger prints and photos of the iris (eyes). The person doesn’t need to come with passport size photos as this is done by a digital machine we have at the office,” he disclosed.
Elucidating more on the security features of the new bio-metric passport, the Immigration PRO explained that it has a chip that contains all the bio data of the holder which cannot be seen by the naked eye unless one uses a machine to read the information stored there.
He said the new bio-metric passports will fast-tract movements at the bordering crossings, adding that a machine is installed at the Banjul International Airport to facilitate easy and quick screening of the passport and eliminate long queues.
“This bio-metric passport will prevent identity theft or fraud, as human beings are unique when it comes to the iris, thumb and finger prints,” he said.
On the reasons for the introduction of the bio-metric passport, PRO Bah said apart from being a measure to counter fraud and prevent identity theft, it also enables easy verification and proof of ownership as well as a mandatory requirement from ECOWAS.
“These are measures that are put in place to ensure that people do not forge passports,” he added.
He further disclosed that the new biometric passport has been specially designed for Gambia and is embedded with several security features and information to ascertain its authenticity.
“The chip in the Gambian biometric passport is passive, which means that it does not have a power source. It cannot transmit signals over long distances. The passport must be held within 10 centimeters of a reader in order to be read,” he further explained.
On the fee to acquire the new passport, the Immigration PRO said applicants are required to pay D3000 (Three Thousand Dalasi) after buying the application form which costs D60 (Sixty Dalasi).
He disclosed that the passport is not yet officially launched but they have started issuing it to applicants since on the 22nd September 2014.
“The application form can be purchased in any Eco Bank branch and when filled it should be submitted with any of these documents: national Identity Card (ID), Voter’s Card, and even in other cases, you can be asked to attach Alkalos attestation or Mayoral attestation,” said PRO Bah.
The Immigration PRO said the new bio-metric passport is also valid for a period of 5 years as the old one.
“The holders of the old one can use it until it expires and then apply for the biometric. We are no more renewing old passport for Gambians living in the Gambia or fresh applicants who need passport. We only renew the old passport for Gambians who are abroad for now because we are working on having our Immigration officers attached to Gambian embassies abroad to make it easier for Gambians living in those countries to be able to access the bio passport,” he revealed.
He listed the countries with Gambian embassies where they want to attach their Immigration officers as the United States of America, United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain and Nigeria. He, however, added that it is not yet finalized, but that it will hopefully be done soon.
The Immigration PRO explained that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, has developed standards and specifications about passports and other issues concerning the safe, secure and sustainable development of civil aviation around the world.
Commenting on the cost, PRO Bah said the expensiveness of the biometric passport has to do with the added security features which are factored into the production cost. He added that the comparative prices of E-passports from different countries, however, show that the cost of the Gambian biometric passport is among the lowest in the world and, according him, France and The Gambia are the only countries using both the Biometric and the Machine Readable Passport.
He said they have conducted a series of sensitization in almost all parts of the country through radio stations and meeting community leaders and talking to them on the issue of the Biometric passport. He said they will continue with the sensitization and anyone needing further information on the issue can call the PRO’s office line: 9038017 or go to the Immigration office in Banjul.