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Sunday, March 03, 2024

The power of a passport

In recent weeks, our news feeds have been inundated with reports about the situation in Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans, many of whom helped western forces during their offensive against the Taliban, fled the country they called home after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Military bases in the U.S. — such as Fort McCoy here in Wisconsin — have taken in thousands of refugees. In a heartwarming display of care, Wisconsinites have pitched in with fabric supplies for the refugees, to let them weave their clothes and feel comfortable adjusting to their new lives.

However, the response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan hasn’t been all positive. There have been multiple tweets from conservative Twitter accounts suggesting that the refugees — who left everything behind merely to survive — are dangerous. Some implied they are a threat to the “Judeo-Christian way of life.” The kind of rhetoric portrays all refugees as savvy villains, excited to wreak havoc in the country, despite that simply not being the case.

This is a harmful, but unfortunately, persistent practice in recent history.

Rhetoric in the form of tweets alone could still be chalked off as noise. After all, even the noblest and most humanitarian of operations will have its detractors. But when there are tangible consequences of this kind of rhetoric, it becomes hard to ignore and not question.

One such tangible consequence is the disparity in passport power. Passport power denotes the number of countries a passport holder can travel to, with little to no difficulty. An American passport stands tall as one of the most powerful in the world, allowing visa-free/visa on arrival travel to 187 countries. This means U.S. passport holders can travel to these countries and face little to no scrutiny at the border. However, not every passport is built the same.

Looking at the opposite end of the scale, an Afghan passport is the weakest in the world, allowing visa-free/visa on arrival travel to a paltry 26 countries. Other countries with similarly weak passports include Iraq, Syria and Yemen. A combination of geopolitics and rhetoric-inspired caution most likely dictates this disparity in passport power. But this raises a question: Is this disparity fair? 

In 2017, Gambian and Afghan students were denied visas to attend a global robotics contest. No reason was given. The notorious “Muslim ban,” introduced in 2017 and overturned this year, is yet another example. Is it fair that the average American is welcomed around the world, while even an accomplished Afghan is refused entry? Should countries paint all citizens of another country with a broad brush and refuse them entry simply because of the passport they hold? 

In my opinion, this isn’t fair by any means. The disparity in passport power seems to present some populations as more desirable and welcome than others. It is inherently racist and xenophobic. 

Does this mean people should be allowed into any country willy-nilly? In an ideal world, I wouldn’t mind it, but in reality, security concerns are not unreasonable. Although, choosing to scrutinize the entry of some nationals while warmly welcoming other nationals is like punishing someone for a crime they did not commit. Refugees pouring in from countries with weak passports don’t deserve dehumanizing scrutiny when threats already linger within the borders of the scrutineers. Bright minds from such countries do not deserve to be deprived of opportunities that they have earned, simply because they committed the “crime” of being born in a country seen as a threat. 

A person who is a legitimate security threat does not warrant entry into any country, but the process to determine such threats should be uniform and non-discriminatory. Contrary to the rhetoric, terrorism isn’t partial to any single country, therefore denying entry to those from “undesirable” nations isn’t as productive as it may seem.

The countries now extending Afghan refugees a warm welcome are doing the right thing. The foundation of humanity is built upon helping those who need it most. However, such humanitarian efforts see cruel backlash, which raises valuable points about the disparity between circumstances of different people in the world. 

The world today simply cannot have second and third class citizens. We must do better.

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Anupras is a junior studying Computer Science and Journalism. Do you think passport power disparity is inherently racist and xenophobic? Are there second and third class world citizens? Send all comments to

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Anupras Mohapatra

Anupras Mohapatra is a former opinion editor for The Daily Cardinal and currently serves on the Editorial Board. He is a senior double majoring in Computer Science and Journalism. 


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