The issue of citizenship revocation in the U.A.E
Citizenship revocation has been used by many governments in a variety of different circumstances throughout the world but it has become an increasingly common practice in Gulf States particularly since the Arab Spring. By having their citizenship taken away, the former citizen is rendered stateless within their own country and they must lead a life with no legal recognition, unless they can be granted citizenship from another country.
The practice has been used to crackdown on civil society activism in the UAE. Emirati authorities are specifically targeting those who have called for political reform and wish to see a government in which the officials are elected democratically. In the case of Mohammed Abdulrazzaq al-Siddiq, who was jailed for ten years as one of the 94 Emirati activists accused of “plotting to overthrow the state”, the tool of citizenship revocation has been used to punish his children, Asma, 29, Doa’a, 25 and Omar, 23. The Emirati authorities failed to explain why exactly the al-Siddiq siblings were having their citizenship revoked but they mentioned that there were other Emiratis set to lose their citizenship too. Typically, those subjected to this process receive a call with no warning, demanding that they report to the police station with all their documents such as their passport, their driving licence, and anything else that might confirm their status as a citizen of the UAE. When they arrive at the station these documents are confiscated but, usually, no official record is kept of this process, meaning the authorities in the UAE can operate with little accountability.
The impact of citizenship revocation
Without citizenship, freedom of movement between states becomes incredibly difficult and the effect is to trap people within a country, unless they can secure another nationality. Without citizenship, inhabitants of the UAE are even more susceptible to human rights abuses as they exist as stateless persons without official acknowledgement of their existence. This practice of citizenship revocation is a violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights Article 15, the ‘Right to Nationality’.
Speaking on video link at a recent Amnesty International conference on citizenship revocation in the Gulf and beyond, human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor explained how those who have had their citizenship revoked in the UAE cannot participate in society, let alone access basic services such as healthcare. Going to school, working, driving, even owning property or accessing a bank account all require documentation and without citizenship people have no official existence in the eyes of the state. People therefore end up living dependent on family members and others who have citizenship status in the UAE.
It is only a minority of the inhabitants of the UAE who have citizenship status because the population consists of many expatriates working in the business sector, a large migrant workforce of labourers and domestic servants living under the Kafala system. On top of this, there are those known as the Bidoon, people often born in the UAE whose tribes may have previously inhabited other parts of the Gulf, so were not seen as part of the nation-state when it was established. For those who have had their citizenship taken away, they have gone from a status of relative privilege to one of complete degradation, no longer able to live independently and denied any state protection.