Overseas travel: Right or privilege? Removing passports for offenders

THE ability to travel overseas on generally recognised and accepted documents is a benefit which seems to have been with us forever. It has been the engine of international tourism and all the attendant industries and businesses which depend upon it and grow from its fruits.

Frictionless passage between countries on the production of a “passport” — the word is French in origin, in reference to someone who could arrive and depart through a naval passage — has long ago been superceded by arrays of restrictions which would otherwise be impossible to manage.

Before the First World War, passports were unnecessary and, indeed, the speed of the rapidly emerging continental rail network appeared to make them unmanageable, but the arrival of the postmodern world and eventually mass aviation demanded greater controls. These were introduced through the League of Nations — a weaker version, if it is possible to believe that, of the United Nations — which was swept away in the passage towards the Second World War.

To what extent, however, should we accept that possession of a passport, and with it freedom to travel, is a basic human right or something that can be withdrawn by a government or a court, because of a suspected or proven transgression? Also, where does that leave the notion of citizenship in a world where the concept of being a citizen with attendant responsibilities is often poorly defined.

Recently, it has been suggested Britons of Arab heritage could nip back and forth to Syria and Libya, with a stop-off in jihadi locations in Germany, with barely let or hindrance. Similar travel patterns were observed in attacks in Belgium and France. In Germany, the man who created mayhem at the Berlin Christmas markets was a Tunisian asylum seeker who had originally entered Europe through the refugee landing grounds on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.

It is interesting that Australia imagines it will be able to prohibit child sex offenders from leaving Australia or holding Australian passports if they are on the national child- offender register. To this extent, the Australian plan resembles something the British floated in respect of removing citizenship from an odious group, many of them dual nationals, involved in the exploitation of young girls in Rotherham. No one finds it easy to argue the case for the rights of terrorists and sex offenders, but passport stripping is a dangerously meretricious response which can be easily extended to other areas of the law and through the changing priorities of government policy. Today, sex tourism; tomorrow, money laundering.

Yesterday’s introduction by the TD Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran into the Dáil of a bill that will produce longer jail sentences for repeat sex offenders has the considerable merit of being easy to understand, without entering the messy area of individual rights, which can be subject to considerable legal procrastination. Many will feel that failure to respond to initial sentencing should merit a stiffer penalty next time around. The trick is to ensure the prison service can cope with extra numbers of long-stay criminals.


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