News | Sunday, 07 February 2010

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Asylum seekers try their luck with ‘world passport’

A travel agent stared at a passport handed to him by a man, of African origin, who was booking a ticket to Germany. The man was using a so-called “world passport”. The travel agent conferred with his senior, tapped the details into the computer and issued the air ticket.
We don’t know whether the traveller did finally make it to Frankfurt, because his world passport is not issued by any state, but by the World Service Authority – a Washington-based organisation founded by peace activist Garry Davis in 1953, and who himself travelled around the world using the first ‘world passport’ ever issued.
But even in Malta, refugees and asylum seekers here are trying their luck with the $45 travel document issued by the WSA. The rest is in the hands of border control.
“I never saw the passport in my life before,” said the Valletta travel agent, who preferred to remain anonymous. “It struck me that the passport might be considered invalid, so I informed the traveller that he might have to check with the German embassy whether he would be allowed in.”
Anyone can apply for the passport from the WSA’s website.
But the question is, which country will accept the world passport in this day and age of airport security checks, passenger data transfers, and body scanners not to mention terrorism?
According to the WSA, more than 150 countries have accepted the document at least once. Malta itself accepted one such passport. It appears as recent as 1998 (see picture), ostensibly for an English-language student who got a visa from the Maltese embassy in Tripoli, Libya.
But although countries like Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Mauritania, Togo, and Zambia have in the past granted it special status, the WSA itself says there is no guarantee that a country will accept the document: Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the USA refuse it outright.
The Maltese association of travel agents FATTA told MaltaToday that travel agents cannot establish when passports are valid or not for travel.
“Travel agents guide clients to check with representatives of a given country’s embassy or consulate, or the minister of foreign affairs,” says Edward Paris of FATTA. “Contrary to the general perception, the travel agent is a retailer of travel services, not an expert in such matters.
“We guide clients on whether they might need a visa. As a general rule, we direct clients to the respective authority.”
The WSA claims Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives everyone the right to leave any country. Since Davis founded the WSA in 1948, the ‘authority’ issued over 500,000 world passports. Davis has been to Bombay, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland with the passport – but he was also jailed and convicted of fraud for selling the world passport to refugees and other migrants.
The WSA has even issued a machine-readable document, with an alphanumeric code bar enabling computer input plus an embedded “ghost” photo for security.

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A can of worms

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