ABU DHABI // The status of an estimated 100,000 stateless people living in the UAE could soon be resolved after the Government yesterday announced it would set up a special committee to assess the case of every bidoon, to protect national security and provide citizenship for those who are eligible.
The Ministry of Interior said bidoons, meaning "without" and referring to people living in the country without any paperwork or official status, would be required to register with the Government from Sunday. The committee would resolve the issue of the undocumented people "once and for all", the ministry said in a statement. Until now, applications to clarify the status of bidoons have been dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
"The committee considers the resolution of this problem to be a top priority and a challenge to further increase social stability and security," said Major Gen Nasser Lakhribani al Nuaimi, director general of the Minister of the Interior's Office and chairman of the committee. A growing number of people were infiltrating the country and "joining the ranks of the undocumented", he said. "The main objective of this is protecting society from crime, ensuring security, stability and peace for all.
"The Minister of Interior has ordered that this issue be treated with accuracy, diligence and efficiency to uphold the rights of those entitled to citizenship." The assessment committee will include representatives of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Presidential Affairs. Major Gen Nuaimi said anyone who failed to register would be considered in violation of residency laws and warned that the ministry would launch an "intense campaign" to find those who had not registered by the end of the registration period. The ministry did not specify what penalties they would face, nor did it release details of how it planned to deal with bidoons who were not granted formal citizenship or residency.
The formation of the committee comes two years after Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, ordered the status of bidoons to be resolved. It also follows a general census conducted by Abu Dhabi police that found the majority of Emiratis were in support of legalising and giving citizenship to stateless people. According to Refugees International, a human rights organisation that generates humanitarian assistance and protection for displaced people around the world, there are an estimated 100,000 stateless people residing in the UAE.
"Many of these individuals were born in the UAE, but are not considered to be citizens," Refugees International states on its website. The Government has not released an official estimate. Welfare agencies say other bidoons were rendered stateless through shifting borders or conflicts, but have not been formally recognised as refugees. Abdullah Mohammed, a bidoon living in Sharjah, is among the thousands of people who are required to begin formalising their status. His grandfather held a Ras al Khaimah passport before the federation of the emirates in 1971, but when it expired he failed to renew it. After federation, his grandfather died and his father had difficulty formalising citizenship without valid papers.
"He moved from office to office to claim for our citizenship but all in vain, he is now himself old and had given up on this pursuance," Mr Mohammed said. Mr Mohammed said he was grateful to the state for giving his family a chance to obtain their passports because a lack of official documents had created several barriers in his career. "I am now unemployed. I have a high school certificate, fluent in both English and Arabic but cannot get a decent job," he said.
One family friend proposed Mr Mohammed work as a garden boy, but he said: "I can't follow his advice because I consider myself as educated, with a possibility to continue with higher education if I get a decent job that can pay for it." Another Sharjah bidoon, who declined to be named, said his family would welcome a chance to obtain their UAE papers as living without them had caused them difficulties. Two suitors refused to marry his sister when they discovered she was a bidoon, he said. The man said his grandfather had immigrated from Iran, but failed to register in the UAE and get a passport in the 1970s when he was offered the opportunity. His children and grandchildren were not able to obtain papers and, without passports, cannot return to Iran.
Stateless and undocumented individuals can register at booths set up at Al Raha Mall, outside Abu Dhabi, at Uptown Mall in Dubai, at Al Kawthar Mall in Ajman and Ta'awon Mall in Sharjah. During Ramadan, registration will take place every day except Friday, from 9am to 3pm. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there are an estimated 5.8 million stateless individuals in the world. Other groups estimate the number could be as high as 15 million.