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Memo to Media/Assange/President of Ecuador: Snowden Does Not Need a Valid US Passport to Leave Moscow

July 1, 2013

A number of otherwise esteemed American media outlets are reporting that Edward Snowden is stranded in the Moscow airport because the United States invalidated his passport. He may very well be stranded, but it’s not because of his passport.

These reports, appearing in The Washington Post and The New York Times, quote Wikileaks leader Julian Assange blaming the passport cancellation for leaving Snowden “marooned” in Russia. Meanwhile, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that his fate was in the hands of the Russians because Snowden had not reached Ecuadorian territory or an Ecuadorian diplomatic mission.

Correa seemed to agree that the problem is the passport. He was quoted saying: “This is the decision of Russian authorities. He doesn’t have a passport. I don’t know the Russian laws. I don’t know if he can leave the airport, but I understand that he can’t.”

The problem with this story is that either the Russian or Ecuadorian governments could resolve the problem by issuing Snowden a laissez-passer passport. This is what governments do for refugees who are accepted for resettlement to a third county but do not have a valid passport from their country of origin. This happens fairly frequently because refugees by definition don’t have the protection of their governments and thus have difficulty obtaining and renewing their passports.

If Russia or Ecuador wanted to help him, that is.

The passport invalidation is an excuse. But the bad news for Mr. Snowden is that the President of Ecuador is looking for excuses not to help him.


  1. Neha B. permalink
    July 1, 2013 1:43 pm

    but hasn’t President Correa also said that Ecuador cannot process Snowden’s claim for refugee status unless he is on Ecuadorian territory- and therefore he has not been granted refugee status. Can they issue a travel document/ laissez-passer in such cases?

    • July 1, 2013 1:55 pm

      This also is an excuse. Ecuador could offer him asylum and a travel document in order for him to travel to Quito. He does not need to reach the consulate first.

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