There’s no particular reason that readers should be interested in my travels, but I feel I should report on the way I’ve managed to get myself outside of the world immigration system.
I’m in Svalbard, in the Arctic. It’s Norwegian territory, but it’s not part of the Schengen zone, so I went through immigration control yesterday on leaving Tromsø; I’ve got a passport stamp saying I’ve left Schengen.
But I haven’t got one for arriving anywhere. There is no passport control at Longyearbyen airport, in Svalbard. As far as the world’s increasingly intricate web of immigration controls goes, I’ve simply ceased to exist.
Svalbard is governed by an international treaty signed in 1920; under it, nationals of any of the signatory countries (which include Australia) can live and work there without restriction. But how, you might ask, do they know I’m from a signatory country if there’s no control?
They don’t. They don’t bother to distinguish, presumably because it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. As the then governor explained in 2006, “It has been a chosen policy so far that we haven’t made any difference between the treaty citizens and those from outside the treaty.”
At the time, there were apparently about 60 Thais living here, making them one of the largest ethnic groups, even though Thailand is not a treaty signatory. (You can read more about the current rules here.)
The natural response, “Everywhere should work like this!”, probably needs some qualifications. A lot of places in the world are more enticing than Svalbard: it’s barren, it’s very cold, and it’s dark for half the year. There’s no welfare, jobs are scarce, and the governor can reject people who have no means of support.
There have been some calls to resettle refugees here, but there’s been an understandable lack of enthusiasm. It’s difficult to imagine a place more different from Libya or Syria. (On the other hand, the air is beautifully clear and the scenery is spectacular.)
So the fact that unrestricted travel works here doesn’t necessarily mean it would work everywhere. Still, it’d be worth a try.
Let’s find a few other places that can be internationalised in the same sort of way (Tasmania would be a good contender – it’s about the same size) and start showing that free movement of people needn’t be just a pipe dream.