25th Oct 2016

Northern countries report large number of missing passports

  • Just under half a million German passports went missing in 2013 (Photo: Luke Montague)

Almost half a million German passports were either stolen or lost in 2013, with Nordic countries also reporting large numbers.

Sweden's interior ministry revealed the sums on Thursday (7 January) as part of a new bill designed to tighten security against passport fraud in a wider crackdown against terrorism.

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"It is part of an agreement on anti-terrorism issues because we want to decrease the use of Swedish passports by the wrong people abroad", said a spokesperson from Sweden's interior ministry.

The ministry said some 477,000 German passports were snatched or lost in 2013, followed by Denmark at 195,000, Sweden (177,000) and Finland (44,000).

The bill makes it more difficult for people to engage in "lookalike fraud", whereby a person with similar features uses another's passport to enter the country.

The proposal would require fingerprint scans for people of all nationalities entering Sweden if they are not from one of the countries in the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.

"In the long term, consideration should be given to whether such controls are to be introduced for outward journeys as well", it notes.

The vast majority of "lookalike fraud" cases are from people travelling with a Swedish passport from Turkey.

The new bill would also limit the number of passports that can be issued to a Swedish national, imposing a three passport limit over a five-year period.

The French delegation at the EU Council, representing member states, floated a similar idea last October calling for EU-wide rules that would require travelling EU nationals to give their fingerprints and possibly have their faces scanned.

That plan is part of the larger so-called 'Smart borders' package, a digital dragnet set to be unveiled by the European Commission before the summer.

Passport demand in Sweden is due, in part, to the gradual replacement of 10-year passports with five-year ones.

The proposal has broad political support and is expected to sail through parliament and become law on 1 April.

The cases of detected abuse of Swedish passports averages at around 950 per year but a summary in the legislative proposal notes "there is much to indicate that a large number of cases go undetected".

The low risk of detection, a lack of police guidelines, and minimal penalties are among the factors behind the abuse.

The Swedish ministry says discussions on tightening the passport controls were launched before the migrant crisis.

"Of course the situation has a bearing on the migration situation as well but that is not the main reason why the legislation was put forward," noted the spokesperson.

Sweden has the highest per capita asylum numbers compared to any other EU state.

Last week, it imposed identity checks with anyone coming from Denmark in an effort to stem migrant inflows.

Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johannsson said the border control crackdown would not last longer than needed.

"We are a country that can do a lot and has done a lot but we cannot do everything. We have to share responsibility," he told reporters earlier this week.

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