Leiden Law Blog

Greetings from Fantasyland!

Greetings from Fantasyland!

A few weeks ago the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee gave my colleagues and I a tour of Schiphol Airport. They showed us all the ins and outs of migration control and border security at the airport. One of the things they showed us was the Identity Fraud and Documents Centre of Expertise (ECID). The ECID has long been renowned in the Netherlands and abroad for its expertise regarding documents. It uses its expertise to support its partners in fighting and preventing identity fraud. We were shown all kinds of fake and forged documents. Some forgeries were very good and almost indistinguishable from an authentic document. Others were pretty shoddy fakes and even a layman would be able to tell they were not real. Both the good and bad fakes were mostly made by tampering with existing, authentic documents. For example, photos were changed and dates of birth altered. But there is another option; the so-called fantasy document.

The fantasy document

Unlike altered documents, fantasy documents are made up entirely.  They look like genuine documents, but are not issued by a competent government authority. Often a former or non-existent country, or even heaven, is used to make it seem like the document is valid.

A good example is the World Passport. The organisation that provides these documents, the World Government of World Citizens (WGWC), believes that anyone on Earth should be able to travel anywhere he or she wants. With a World Passport you should be able to do so. You can buy one for between $45 and $100 on their website, which should already raise some questions about the credibility of the document, to put it mildly. The WGWC claims that this document can be used as an actual travel document:

“A passport gains credibility only by its acceptance by authorities other than the issuing agent. The World Passport in this respect has a track record of over 50 years acceptance since it was first issued. Today over 150 countries have visaed it on a case-by-case basis.”

The above quotation is partly correct. Passports do gain credibility through the acceptance by other authorities. Unfortunately, the World Passport is not accepted by most nations on Earth. Even though the website of the WGWC gives a long list of cases were people have crossed a border with a World Passport, only a few nations officially recognise the document: Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia. The examples of successful border crossings in other countries are incidental.

Despite the fact that only a few countries accept the World Passport, there are more than enough examples of people trying to use it as their official travel document. Even NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made an attempt after the US government revoked his passport.

Worth a try? Not really!

The WGWC website paints a pretty picture when it comes to using the World Passport.  This can make it tempting for people in dire need of a passport - like political refugees -  to take this seemingly affordable risk. Nevertheless,  they should really reconsider the use of a World Passport or any other fantasy document. Attempting to cross a border without proper documentation is considered an illegal act in most countries. Something that did not go unnoticed by Garry Davis (1921 – 2013), the founder of the WGWC. He was arrested many times for trying to use his World Passport while travelling.

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