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What are camouflage and fantasy passports?

A camouflage passport is a document, intended to give the impression that it is a tangible passport, delivered in the name of a country or entity that does not exist anymore, has changed name or that never had the competence to issue a passport. Typically, the names which are selected sound credible or well-known. Frequently these are former colonies that took a different name upon gaining their independence such as for example, Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) or Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The aim of a camouflage passport is to offer false documentation to be utilized to shield the passport carriers from being noticed at border crossings or wherever they might be requested to show their documents. Consequently, the camouflage passport seems to be meant chiefly to mislead a customs, immigration or police officer.

Fantasy passports are passport-like documents delivered as a novelty or reminder, to make a political statement or to demonstrate faithfulness to a cause. They are fully invented by the counterfeiter. Fantasy passports have no value but can occasionally pass as an authentic document among non-experts. Fantasy documents often use security elements and techniques comparable to those of real documents. One of the most famous fantasy travel document the World Passport is sold by the World Service Authority. The World Passport looks like an authentic national passport. It includes a ghost photo and its data page is in the format of a machine-readable passport, with an alphanumeric code bar enabling it to be scanned by an optical reader. However, instead of a valid ISO 3166 code, it uses the code "WSA".

Successfully using a World Passport to cross a border is usually attributable to the unawareness of individual immigration officers but cannot be considered as an official recognition of the document. The World Service Authority argue that the World Passport has been legally recognised in several countries (Ecuador, Haute Volta now Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Tanzania, Togo, The Vatican and Zambia) and displays scans of letters dating from between 1954 and 1995. Moreover, according to the World Service Authority website, some World Passports have been recognised (and stamped) on a case-by-case basis by over 150 countries. Even though the idea of a World Passport based on the fundamental human right to leave one’s country and the promotion of free travel can seem laudable, it is doubtful that this passport would still be accepted anywhere today, and it has been proven on many instances not to work. Garry Davis, the inventor of the World Passport himself, has been jailed numerous times for trying to enter a country with his World Passport.

Many countries have underlined that they do not recognize the World Passport since it is not issued by a competent government authority, and thus does not meet the definition of a passport. In 2011, the European Union stated that a "non-exhaustive list of known fantasy and camouflage passports" should be created that "should not be subject to recognition or non-recognition. They should not entitle their holders to cross the external borders and should not be endorsed with a visa”. A list was later issued, with the latest version dating from March 2017.

Author: Dr Fanny Tittel-Mosser

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