This little red book I carry with me is my key to the world. It has 32 pages, it’s ragged, dog eared, plastered with stamps. The photo of me causes hilarity and bemusement whenever it’s viewed. But my British passport is my freedom.
I’m very thankful for that freedom. My passport allows me to move freely through 173 out of 219 recognised territories in the world without having to resort to lengthy visa applications, interview processes, heartache and rejections.
I know I’m lucky. I was born in England, I’m British. With that comes the passport. According to Henley & Partners Visa Restriction Index, the British passport ties for first in the world for freedom of movement. Only Finland and Sweden can enjoy the same benefits, with a plethora of other western nations following on just behind.
It’s so easy for us and so many people take it for granted. I used to.
A key to the world
My passport would allow me to move to Italy tomorrow. Or I could settle in Paris. Or Barcelona. Or Berlin. And why not? I’d just take a bag, book a cheap plane ticket, and find some work anywhere in continental Europe. Simple, safe, secure.
These days, I feel very fortunate to have that freedom. My travels brought me into contact with people from all walks of life. People whose citizenship doesn’t allow them the same freedom as me. People whose countries often don’t even allow them to leave without prior authorisation from their governing powers.
The Syrian passport – one that’s held by almost all my closest friends and wife here in Lebanon – is not a particularly desirable passport to have.
Scroll down to the final sections of Henley’s list and you’ll find Syria. Tied with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and South Sudan at position 87 out of 93. Just above lie Angola, Djibouti, Iran and Myanmar – and Syrians only have free access to eight more territories than those souls from Iraq and ten more than Afghanistan. It doesn’t make for good reading.
It’s an incredibly frustrating situation. My friends here, all of whom have talents, quirks and knowledge that I could only dream of having are stuck here in Lebanon whilst their homeland implodes. Highly educated, multi lingual folks, artists and musicians of the highest calibre, singers, designers; people with abilities so amazing I am in awe.
But I’m British, so I can take my meager abilities wherever I want. No problem.
I’ve been offered relatively high paying jobs in the Middle East purely based on my nationality. Having a British man employed at a business in a far flung land can draw in more people. It’s good for the image. But some of these jobs I’d never be able to get back in my homeland. Not enough experience, no pieces of paper to say I’m qualified.
But here, my little red book, with those 32 pages and a polite but firm request from her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State to allow freedom of movement, is heeded by most of the world.
Cherish the opportunities you’ve been given
This little red book I carry. My key to the world. I love it. I appreciate it. But I hate it. I wish my friends all had it. Or something similar. The same opportunities. To be allowed to make their lives the way they want, rather than through the will of a faceless official who’ll look suspiciously through their little blue book and likely reject it, while I stroll casually by to wherever I’m going, safe in the knowledge that 28 years ago I was born in England – not Syria.
If you were born in England and not Syria, Denmark and not Afghanistan, Italy and not Eritrea, be thankful.
Cherish the opportunities you have. I hope you are already thankful for those opportunities. The everyday mundane problems I’ve faced in my life, compared to those harrowing, frustrating and hopeless issues that so many people I know face. They’re nothing. Nothing at all. Perspective can be gained by travel. For those of us with the fortune to be able to do that should at least consider how lucky we are, be thankful for it. Or better yet: look into places you want to visit, in far flung lands, places with mystical names, and book a flight. You’re lucky. The world is your oyster. Go explore it.
About the Author
Ben Allen is a freelance writer from Northamptonshire, England. In 2008 he relocated to Vancouver, Canada, after wanting to make a change in his life. Not happy being in one place, Ben has just been on the road undertaking a hitchhiking trip around the Middle East. Now he’s returned to North America where he’s thinking about the next step. You can follow him on Twitter @ballenuk and read more about his adventures at www.benallen.ca.