ABU DHABI // Expatriates working for the Government can begin registering from Sunday for national identity cards which they must hold by the end of 2010. The start date for registration for other expatriates has yet to be announced. The card scheme is the Government's latest effort to protect against identity theft and maintain more comprehensive records on foreign residents and Emirati nationals. The Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) plans to issue five million cards to the entire population of foreign residents and Emiratis, who must have an ID card by the end of this year. Emiratis have been able to apply since the beginning of the year, but because many have been slow to come forward the registration start date for foreigners was delayed by a month. Registration is obligatory for all but ID cards will be optional for children under the age of 15. The authority has hired dozens of extra staff to register expatriates. Thamer Rashed al Qasemi, planning manager of the programme, said the response from Emiratis had been disappointing. Close to 285,000 had registered by early March but applications had slowed after that and there had been difficulty encouraging nationals to sign up to the scheme. It was, he said, every Emirati's patriotic duty to register for the ID cards and those who failed to do so by the deadline would face penalties. "In my opinion, I think we expected the response to be a little bit better," he said. What was needed was a "sense of nationalistic urgency to make this a success story by contributing to building an accurate population register for the UAE". He felt the lack of enthusiasm was due to ignorance of the benefits the cards would bring, but "We can't say what's in it for you now because we have to populate our register before we offer services. If we don't have a majority of people to use such services, we cannot enable them." Emiratis who have not registered by the end of 2008 face fines starting at Dh1,000 (US$275) and even prison sentences, but, said Mr Qasemi, "The punishment does not only mean fines and jail time, it also means that they will not be entitled to receive services, which will not be provided for them unless their ID card is present". The card will eventually function as a labour card, health card, driving licence and passport to other GCC nations. Holders will also be able to use the cards to rent library books and spend "e-dirhams" on public-sector transactions. According to Darwish al Zaraouni, the general manager of EIDA, the cards would not record holders' religion or sexuality. "This is definitely welcome news," said Joe Stork, the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, who wrote a report on the use of ID cards in Egypt. "We looked very closely at the issue in Egypt, where people were required to list a religion on getting an ID card, and the problems associated with that. "There are now quite a few countries in the Middle East not demanding the inclusion of religion and other sensitive subjects on ID cards. "The United Arab Emirates is now in good company." EIDA has hired 650 people to register people and has 24 centres across the country where people can sign up for the cards. Staff are also prepared to set up temporary offices in workplaces where there are large numbers of expatriates. From 2010, employers will be responsible for registering their workers and must not employ anyone who does not have an ID card. Residents must pay Dh100 to obtain a card. Full details of how to register, as well as the locations of registration offices, can be found at emiratesid.ae. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
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