In today's modern world millions of people travel from one country to another on a daily basis. Usually when you cross a foreign border you need to prove your identity and nationality, and this is most commonly done through passports.
To be able to get a passport you need to belong to a country, and while this might seem like a very simple thing, not everyone in the world has this privilege.
Around 12 million people in the world are stateless! This means that they don't belong to any country and they can't cross international borders, except if they receive refugee travel documents from the UN.
Then again just because you have a passport from a certain country, that doesn't mean you're automatically a citizen as well.
Latvia for example issues passports to anyone who has family living in the country since the Soviet Era. People from American Samoa are considered US nationals and not citizens, but are still able to get a US passport. And then there's North Korea where the people aren't allowed to get a passport, even though they are citizens of that country!
There are more than 200 governments and agencies in the world from 195 recognized countries that can issue passports to their people.
Apart from that the European Union has a list of 180 passports that are fictional and mainly just used for fun, and don't have any purpose or value. This includes passports from places such as Texas, The Iroquois Federation, and even a world passport.
On the same list there's also a section for a very special type of passport that are called camouflage passports. This type of passport isn't just for fun, but is designed to fool people into thinking it's a real one. They look almost identical to any real passport, with the only difference being that the country it's issued from doesn't exist!
So how is this going to fool anyone then?
Here's one example, Ceylon is the old name for Sri Lanka, a country south of India in the Indian Ocean. The country changed its name in 1972 when it became a republic, and has been using its new name on all official documents ever since. So while you can't use it for crossing a border, it might just sound legitimate enough to fool someone that wants to take a look at your passport.
But why do people carry these passports?
Hundreds of people carry passports like this when they travel and use them to hide their identities in extreme emergency situations, where showing your real passport could be dangerous or attract unwelcome attention.
The concept of camouflage passports originated in the 1980's, when American travelers increasingly became targets of hijacking and other forms of violence around the world.
In 1979 American citizens were held hostage by Iranians because of their nationality. And in 1985 a US citizen was murdered on a hijacked plane because he carried an American passport.
Incidents like these led Donna Walker who is the creator of camouflage passports, to realize the need for documents to help travelers fake their nationality in emergency situations abroad.
She started by asking the Sri Lankan embassy if they still had rights to the name Ceylon, and after finding out that they did not, she started a business called the International Document Service that has designed and produced hundreds of passports in different country names.
She sold these passports to her customers around the world for a couple of hundred dollars, and she would add additional pieces of documentation, like a driver's license, to make their fake nationality seem more legitimate.
During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, a group of European oil executives used camouflage passports to successfully pass through Iraqi checkpoints and escape to Jordan.
And after the fall of the Berlin wall, camouflage passports became popular with German businessmen who wanted to avoid lingering resentment when they traveled around Europe.
Today camouflage passports are sold mainly online, in the name of more than two dozen little known countries that no longer exist or have changed their name.
Most of these are former colonies that changed their name after independence or use the name of places or subdivisions that exist within a real country, but have never issued passports. For example places like British Honduras or Dutch Guiana.
The idea is to sound familiar, but not too familiar when trying to deceive a customs or immigration officer into believing that the holder is from a small unimportant country, and is not an enemy or a high value hostage.
So how legal are these passports exactly?
After 9/11 the US government restricted the holding or selling of camouflage passports, even though they are legal if they are used for their intended purpose.
It's also reported that passports like these are used by criminals for terrorism and money laundering, and that the majority of camouflage passports are bought for these reasons.
But camouflage passports are still 100% legal in Australia, New Zealand, and all of the European Union. Although if a customs officer finds one of these passports you could still get in trouble if they think you're carrying two valid passports from two different countries.
Also trying to outsmart a dangerous person by showing them a fake passport is a tricky thing in itself.
In the end it's a question of risk versus risk!
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this article!