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Middle East passports are least powerful in the world, global ranking finds

Yemeni passport
Yemeni passport, 6 March 2019

Middle Eastern passports have ranked low on this year's Henley Passport Index, which ranks the travel documents according to the number of destinations their holders can travel to without obtaining a visa prior to arrival.

Most states in the region remain in the bottom half of the quarterly index, with Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan locked in a race for the bottom spot.

The ranking also takes into account the purchase of visas on arrival, visitor's permits, and an electronic travel authority (FTA).

Iraqi and Syrian passport holders have started the year with visa-free and visa-on-arrival travel to 28 and 29 countries respectively.

Somalia and Yemen are hovering merely two spots above with 33 destinations.

While Palestinian Territories, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Iran and South Sudan passports are hovering around the 40-destination mark.

Higher up the table, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, each boast between 51 and 71 visa-free destinations.

Several states including the UAE and Bahrain have gained one destination following their normalisation of ties with Israel late last year.

READ: Israel blogger makes 'secret trip' to Beirut

Only two countries in the region, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have broken into the top half of the index.

The UAE saw the biggest rise in this year's passport index, climbing two places to 16th with the addition of two destinations.

The Gulf state signed several mutually reciprocated visa-waiver agreements last year, when travel and visa deals were at an all-time low.

The Emirati passport has leapt up the rankings in the last ten years, rising 29 places since 2010.

Highest ranking countries:

  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Germany
  • Italy

Emirati passport holders can now visit 171 countries visa-free.

Henley, however, has warned readers that rankings do not take into account pandemic-related restrictions which likely take precedence over visa information.

"Just a year ago all indications were that the rates of global mobility would continue to rise, that travel freedom would increase, and that holders of powerful passports would enjoy more access than ever before," says Christian Kaelin, chair of Henley & Partners.

"The global lockdown negated these glowing projections, and as restrictions begin to lift, the results from the latest index are a reminder of what passport power really means in a world upended by the pandemic."

The Henley rankings are based on data collected by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

READ: Erdogan says Turkey wants better ties with Israel, but 'Palestine policy is our red line'

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