For some residents of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the rush to secure a national identity card remains an ordeal for a third consecutive day.
ID card hopefuls face all-day wait
ABU DHABI and DUBAI // Day-long queues, cancelled appointments and even police greeted residents trying to get their national ID cards in the third day of strict new enforcement rules.
At the Mushrif Emirates ID Authority building yesterday, the only registration centre in the capital, some residents arrived as early as 4am. Yet just hours after the centre opened at 7.30am, frustration at the long queues was turning to disbelief as it became obvious that many in the crowd had no chance of seeing their forms processed that day. It was a maddening prospect for many who needed the cards quickly because of the new rule that people must have the card for all vehicle and licensing procedures. Some had tried and failed to get the cards for three days.
Syed Jhon, 22, from Pakistan, who arrived in the UAE a month ago and is looking for work as a driver, said he was told to come back today. "I came here at 5am because without this card we cannot do anything." About a half-dozen police officers stood guard behind barriers set up to direct the queues, which stretched around the walls of the office. At 11.45am, when the crowds were swelling, Capt Haji al Buloushi of the police announced over a megaphone that everyone not queued up behind the guide barriers should leave.
"All the employees inside will not take any papers," he announced. "Come back tomorrow from 7.30 to 2.30." Soon after, he made another announcement, that people without forms would not be served at all, regardless of their place in line. Everyone else was then directed into a single queue where staff stamped their forms with new appointment times. Ali, 39, from Syria, who arrived with others from his company, accompanied by a human resources representative, said it took him just an hour to get processed.
But he said yesterday morning that he saw a group of about 10 men trying to force their way past the police barriers. "I don't know what is the problem, exactly," said Ali, who works for a government-owned company but declined to give his last name or profession. "People are waiting for a long time. There is no need to force to go inside anywhere." Similar scenes unfolded in Dubai, where lines also began forming before sunrise. By noon, hundreds of people were waiting for their numbers to be called. Applicants who arrived later were advised by the staff to come another day; the centre was already full.
"Whoever comes in, we advise them about the time it will take and leave it up to them to decide if they want to take a token or come another day," said Suad Ali, 23, one of the staff at the Al Barsha ID centre. Waiting rooms inside the centres were packed, with many of the men in line spilling over into the women's waiting section because all the seats were taken. Others took advantage of the rainy weather and sat outside on the shaded green lawns or inside their cars with the windows rolled down.
One such applicant was Rashid Mohammed, who waited in his 4x4 car. He was passing the time by listening to radio. "I have two cars, and one of them, its registration expired last week, and so when I went on Saturday to the traffic police they refused to register my car unless I get an ID card," said the 30-year-old resident of Dubai. He got his token at 9am after waiting in line for 30 minutes: number 358. "It is moving too slowly, and I took four hours off from work, thinking that should be more than enough," he said.
But by noon, and with his token still far behind the number being called, Mr Mohammed worried he might run out of time. "They need to open more centres to ease some of this pressure," Mr Mohammed said. "No one has time to just stand and wait like this as all of us have work." Abdul Aziz al Maamari, the public relations and managing director for the authority, said officials decided at an emergency meeting yesterday to set up a temporary registration tent at the vehicles and drivers licensing department with about 20 processors, although it was not clear when it would be operating.
Sindhu Radhakrishna, 28, waiting in Dubai, had different concerns. "Mine took only two hours, but I have to wait for the rest of the group," she said. Her company bus arrived by 8am, and by 11am Mrs Radhakrishna was finished. But for her, the most distressing part of the process was the cost of the ID card - Dh320 (US$87), nearly half her monthly salary. She paid Dh100 for each of three years, and another $20 as a delivery fee.
"They will be deducting the cost of the card from my salary until it is fully paid," she said. Waiting in the Abu Dhabi queue about 2pm, Mike Waz, 47, from the US, said he had scheduled an appointment online for yesterday that was cancelled. He said he had to come again in person to make another one. Mr Waz, the director of revenue for the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi, said he had arrived in the city two months ago and learnt yesterday morning that he would need the card to register a car.
"All they are doing right now is looking at the paperwork and giving you a time to come back on another day," he said. "They cancelled the online and call-in appointments for other staff members trying to set that up today." Mr al Maamari said that as far as he knew, there were no appointments cancelled, but because of the large demand, many were being rescheduled. At the Mushrif centre, appointments were being rescheduled as late as Thursday. About 2.15pm, staff started turning away people, telling them they would have to come back today to make an appointment.
Mr al Maamari said the registration process should take 15 minutes, but because of the crowds, it was taking considerably longer. He pointed out that people had six months to register for the ID card before the new rules were put into place. Everywhere, the crowds comprised the spectrum of expatriates: labourers, professionals and everything in between. Women and families were allowed easy access to the Emirates Identity Authority office but the wait in there could be just as frustrating, many said.
Riad Aziz Dudhia and his wife, Salma, from the UK, said they were turned away Monday when trying to process their forms. They were allowed in yesterday about 8.30am and given number 2030. About 2.30pm they trudged out of the office with the promise of receiving a new identity card in seven to 10 days. "This is an absolute mess," said Mr Dudhia, 30. "I have had to take the whole day off just to do this," said Mrs Dudhia, 27.
Many others queued up just as long or even longer but were only given an appointment by staff sitting under umbrellas just inside the police barriers. The Northern Emirates have seen the mandatory ID card policy in place since autumn. Officials there said the process has been more straight forward. * The National with additional reporting by Anna Zacharias