A passport can be synonymous with freedom. It can open doors – to pass through the ‘porte’ of the city wall. A safe conduct pass, For a refugee seeking asylum it can mean the end to months or years of uncertainty, of near-destitution, of fearing the knock on the door which could mean deportation. Indefinite leave to remain – the right to work, to settle, to pursue your education, to have a family life. And the right to leave as well, on holiday or to see family, without fearing that the door will close firmly behind you.
To be ‘sans papiers’ is to be a non-person, invisible to employers, health care services, landlords, police – but at the same time often to be a target, a scapegoat, the ‘usual suspect’. ‘To not have a passport is to be less than fully human, a non-entity, since in a global world one must be under the aegis of a sovereign state’ (Colin Dickey, 2007).
But as Dickey goes on to say, ‘to have a passport, paradoxically, does not suddenly liberate you, it simply re-inscribes you into a control society of surveillance and micro-power’. At worst, having those necessary and dangerous ‘papers’, that secure your identity in relation to the state that you inhabit, can be a sentence of death…
Colin Dickey, ‘On Passports: W G Sebald and the Menace of Travel’, Image & Narrative, 19 (November 2007)