Designer passports offer desperate remedy

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The Independent Online
BELGRADE - 'I am a horse man, I deal with horses,' said Ljubo, a tubby, middle-aged man with a beard, writes Marcus Tanner. 'But everything here is falling apart. Can you can help me set up somewhere else?'

'Well we have Vanuatu, Western Samoa, Micronesia, Surinam,' the man from Worldwide Passports said pleasantly, as he thumbed through the company brochure. 'Prices range from 100 German marks to 1.5 million, if you want to live in Monte Carlo, ha ha]'

'Any Commonwealth countries?' asked Ljubo hopefully. 'Oh yes, we have Tonga. I'm not sure if Vanuatu counts as Commonwealth. . . . Now I recommend you take away the leaflet, priced only 20 marks, and book another appointment. Next]' Outside the office a queue of potential Micronesians and Western Samoans shuffled in the draughty corridor.

Worldwide Passports is one of a host of Belgrade-based companies making a killing from people who are prepared to do almost anything to get out of sanctions-hit, inflation-wracked Serbia.

Unlike the more fly-by-night operators, this firm demands no more than the brochure fee until the satisfied customer is clutching a brand new passport for Vanuatu or Surinam. It is a sign of just how desperate Serbs are to escape that people are willing to pay for the dubious privilege of possessing a non-resident passport from a war-torn statelet in South America or a Pacific island.

'Only open a few days and already 300 customers,' sighed the Worldwide Passport agent, Predrag Pejic, leafing though his applications book. 'Here we have the Lovric family, father, mother, son, all wanting to leave. Sanctions have caused tremendous problems. If you are a Serb and want to go to Italy for example, it is almost impossible to cross the Slovene border.' Mr Pejic admits a brand-new Micronesian passport may not automatically further one's chances of finding a new life in the US - which is the ultimate aim of most emigrants. But he insists that obtaining a visa to a Western country is almost impossible for Yugoslav passport holders, so any different passport is an improvement.