A unique and rare Refugee Travel Document issued for Peru

refugee travel document

What you see here is a travel document according to the agreement from 15 October 1946 – Intergovernmental Conference on the adoption of a travel document for Refugees and Agreement relating to the issue of a travel document to refugees who are the concern of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees. Signed in London, on 15 October 1946.

Let’s have a closer look at this peculiar document. The booklet type is a British Travel Document (BE-1806), and still a softcover version; issued to an Austrian lady in Vienna, a hairdresser. The issuing body was the British Element of the Allied Commission for Austria. The document was good to travel to PERU! The issuing date was 29 August 1950. Special is the text on page one, which states in clause 3, “The holder is authorized to return to BRITISH ZONE OF AUSTRIA”!

The lady was obviously a native of Peru. There is an Italian transit visa issued in Vienna on 10 October 1950; an immigration visa for Peru was issued at the Consulate General in Genova, besides some border stamps. Finally, a Peruvian immigration stamp from 1951 when she arrived in her homeland.


This document was specially issued for the British Zone in Austria, which is unique/unprecedented (nothing to find in the UNHCR or other literature on the topic).

Historical development of the refugee travel document refugee travel document

The first international instrument drawn up for refugees’ benefit in 1922 dealt exclusively with identity certificates for refugees for use as travel documents. Such identity certificates were also provided for in various later international instruments adopted between the two World Wars. Originally, these certificates of identity, which came to be known as “Nansen Passports,” were issued on a single sheet of paper and were not, like later refugee travel documents, in booklet form resembling a national passport. The earlier instrument contained no indications as to the period of validity of the certificate of identity and also provided expressly that the certificate did not in any way imply a right for the holder to return to the issuing country without special authorization. In the later instruments, it was specified that the period of validity should normally be one year. Regarding the right of return, provisions were introduced in due course, enabling the holder to return to the issuing country within the certificate’s validity period. Simultaneously, it was specified that limitations on this right of return should only be introduced in exceptional circumstances.

After World War II, many new refugees necessitated adopting a travel document that was more like a passport and more widely recognized. Such a document was provided for in the “London” Agreement relating to a travel document to refugees of 15 October 1946. It was to be in booklet form by the specimen attached to the Agreement. The period of validity of the document was either one or two years at the discretion of the issuing authority. It was to be made valid for the largest possible number of countries. The holder of the travel document was entitled to return to the issuing authority’s territory within its validity period. Only in exceptional cases could this right of return be limited to a period of not less than three months. The provisions relating to the “London Travel Document were indeed very similar to those which now regulate the 1951 Convention Travel Document.

The Governments of Argentine, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Greece, India, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Union of South Africa, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America and Venezuela, Having accepted the invitation of the Director of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees to be represented at a Conference with the object of adopting a travel document for refugees, Have appointed the following delegates:

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: Mr. C. D. Carew Robinson, C.B., Assistant Under-Secretary in the Home Office, Delegate. Mr. W. R. Perks, O.B.E., Chief Inspector, Immigration Branch, Home Office, Substitute Delegate. Miss M. F. Appleby, Member of the Control Office for Germany and Austria.

Source: https://www.unhcr.org/afr/excom/scip/3ae68cce14


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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...