x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Mother wins passport battle for stateless Leen, 4

Ghazala Ahmed has finally obtained a passport for her child, who has been stateless from the day she was born because her father denied paternity.

Leen Omar is no longer stateless after a four-year legal battle ended with her mother Ghazala Ahmed finally obtaining a passport for the little girl.
Leen Omar is no longer stateless after a four-year legal battle ended with her mother Ghazala Ahmed finally obtaining a passport for the little girl.

ABU DHABI // Every day, little Leen Omar's friends went off to nursery school. Every day she wondered why she couldn't go too.

The four-year-old could hardly be expected to know that her mother was embroiled in a complex legal battle in which Leen's ineligibility for school was the least of her frustrations.

Without a passport, the little girl was stateless: not only trapped in the UAE but often trapped in her own home, because her Jordanian father denied paternity - and fled the country when a DNA test found he was lying.

Without his co-operation there was no way for Ghazala Ahmed, Leen's mother, to obtain the papers she needed for her daughter. Jordanian law requires a father's signature for his children to be issued a passport.

Now, however, Ms Ahmed's four-year ordeal in the legal system is over, and she has finally secured a passport for her daughter. But it is a battle she believes she should never have had to fight.

Ms Ahmed, a Palestinian with Syrian travel documents, married OM in Syria in January 2006, but they did not immediately have their marriage papers stamped.

They lived together briefly in Abu Dhabi but when she told him in the summer that she was expecting his child, he left her. Pregnant, and realising the pressing need for the marriage to be formalised, she finally had the papers registered.

When Leen was born in March 2007, OM denied he was the father and refused to give the necessary approval for the child to be issued with a passport.

Ms Ahmed turned to the courts, but at a hearing in 2008 OM again denied that Leen was his daughter. They had not been married when she was conceived, he claimed, and in any case he had been out of the country.

The court ordered a paternity test, which proved that Leen was indeed his biological daughter. The Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance ordered him to provide financial support for the child and her mother, to register Leen as his daughter and to obtain a passport for her. The court also imposed a travel ban on the father until he complied with the ruling.

OM, however, claimed that he had to go to Jordan to process the necessary documents, and in February 2009 he fled the country - leaving Leen stranded.

"I had to go to Syria before Ramadan last year and had to leave her with friends," Ms Ahmed says. "I couldn't take her with me. She used to tell me, 'Mum, I want to see my grandmother, I want to see Syria'."

Not being able to send her daughter to a nursery school has been hard, too. "Sometimes I would have to leave her at home with the door locked so I could go to work, if there is no one who can look after her. For everything here, you need a passport.

"He doesn't care about her, he didn't even think for a day what do I do if she gets sick or anything. His brother lives here too, and he never asks about my daughter either."

Even when OM was in the country, she says, he "never lifted the phone to check on his daughter".

Jordan's requirement for fathers to approve their children's passport applications is a common problem for divorced and separated mothers. One lawyer in Abu Dhabi estimates there are about 60,000 women in a similar position in the region.

A staff member at the Jordanian embassy said such cases were all too common. Resolving them, she said, depended on exactly what paperwork the mother had managed to extract from her ex-husband.

Eventually, this February, the embassy official told Ms Ahmed: "If you get me official divorce documents, I can get you a passport for your daughter."

Relieved, she accepted, and her ex-husband gave the embassy the go-ahead to approve her application for Leen's passport. It was issued on April 7.

Ms Ahmed is now preparing to apply for a UAE residency visa for her daughter, and hopes to find a school too.

But she is dreading having to go through the process again in five years' time, when Leen's passport comes up for renewal.

"I do not want to go through this again, I want the Jordanian law to change, every person has a right to life," she says. "Even when I was at the Jordanian embassy, there were many cases like my child's.

"Hopefully in five years she will have a different nationality, and never need him again.

"She always asks why can she not go to school like other children, and it is painful, but hopefully now, she can get her life back.

"After the unrest in Syria, I plan to take her to see her family, but right now we are just looking for a school."

osalem@thenational.ae