The Guarantor Role in Identity

by | Feb 13, 2020 | ICT4D, Identity |

My son’s passport expired this month. So we completed the application form and then took the (no smiling!) photo. A guarantor wrote on the back of the photo “I certify this is the true likeness of….” And then into the envelope went photo, application, old passport, birth certificate, payment confirmation, and citizenship document. Into the post it went, two weeks later, new passport arrives back with documents.

We were super impressed with how simple, straightforward and fast it was. (thank you Canada!)

It worked well because we had all the paperwork easily accessible. And we had the funds to pay for it. If we were missing one piece of paper, it would have slow things down. But if we didn’t have any of the paperwork? Nightmare.

And this nightmare is common in many refugee situations when people flee across an international border. And in their fleeing they forget, or lose, or have stolen their identity paperwork. Or years ago in the 2004 Tsunami, most of the paperwork, including the copies in the government, washed out to sea. The rebuilding of the documentation is a slow and painful process. Thankfully there are experts in this area.

However, I am reminded of the role of the guarantor in my son’s passport process. In my son’s case, the guarantor had to be a Canadian citizen and not the person applying on behalf of him (as he is a child). When I apply for a passport, the guarantor tends to need to be a person of a certain profession. The guarantor certifies the photo is a true likeness of the person for whom the passport is. The government relies on this, trusts this. But in reality there is nothing stopping the guarantor from writing a different name.

And yes, the government checks the information on the photo with the paperwork and verifies the paperwork is legit etc. And yet, this guarantor role is a part of the process, contributes to it.

Similarly, when humanitarian organisations work with communities to learn who they are, they ask questions and gather data about a person. When done well, various community leaders ‘confirm’ this is Tim not Ted. The community leaders act as guarantor of sorts. In the Tsunami we worked with the whole community to re-document land titles. The communities jointly acted as guarantors. If one organisation did this and then another organisation did their process and came to the same result – this is Tim not Ted – it could be seen as strengthening the verification. And then, if the individual (Tim) could carry copies of these verifications, it might help him with getting his foundational identity documents back. The work of the humanitarian organisations – their documentation and their data – could contribute to enabling Tim to have the documentation he needs function in the world. That could be life changing.

Now to pry that information out of humanitarian organisations and enable the Tim’s of the world to have access to it…

Photo by Kylie Anderson


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