x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Last-minute rush for UAE citizenship

The window of opportunity for stateless people to apply for national status has closed amid concerns about processing delays.

ABU DHABI // The opportunity for the nation's thousands of stateless people to register for citizenship ended yesterday amid a last-minute rush of applicants. There were also fears that decisions might be delayed because many people had registered more than once, in the misguided hope of improving their chances. The Government's registration centres have been operating across the country since Sept 6 but the centre at Al Raha Beach Mall has seen an increase in activity over the past two weeks. Yesterday, hundreds turned up to stake their claim.

Officials believe there may be as many as 100,000 stateless people, or bidoons, living in the country, partly as a result of migrations that took place before the UAE was founded. Lacking any documents or official nationality, for years many have been unable to travel, work or even enrol their children in universities. At Al Raha Beach Mall yesterday, some of the last-minute applicants admitted they had registered more than once.

"I want to make sure they don't lose my papers," said one, a 40-year-old mother of five who admitted that last month she had registered herself and her family in Sharjah. "I also think that by applying more than once, it increases my chance of getting an Emirati citizenship." It remains unclear how many have registered, what percentage of applicants are likely to be granted citizenship and when decisions will be reached.

A source at the Interior Ministry yesterday said no numbers would be released before all applications had been thoroughly cross-checked. The problem of duplicate applications, he said, was one of the main hurdles that now faced the registration committee. Some of the applicants at Al Raha Beach yesterday blamed employers for their last-minute registration. "My employer was away and only yesterday was I able to get his signature that is needed in the application form," said Ibrahim Mohammed Abdullah, who said he worked as a driver for one of the sheikhs in Abu Dhabi.

Mr Abdullah said he hoped that, having been born in 1969, before the union of the seven emirates, and having an Emirati wife would increase his chances of being granted citizenship. "I think it will be OK and all I can do now is wait," he said. The authorities had not told him when he could expect to hear whether his application had been successful. "They told me the more information I provide the faster the processing of my file, but not to expect anything back for many months."

Recently it was announced that 51 people had been granted citizenship by presidential decree. At the same time, the Interior Ministry said that stricter rules would be applied after the registration window closed and that special teams would actively seek out those who had not registered for citizenship. . rghazal@thenational.ae