Exile is Not the Answer to Statelessness!

A year ago, many Bedoon activists wouldn’t have been able to answer questions about the status of their counterparts in the United Arab Emirates due to a media blackout that the country was able to maintain until this year when they decided to send Bedoon activist Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq into exile. The Bedoon in the UAE number at least 100,000. Many of them are children of citizen mothers who are not allowed to pass citizenship to their children or spouses. Abdul-Khaleq was one of the five arrested last year for demanding reforms and democratic changes in the country. Since his release, the government has been planning to get rid of him as he calls on other Bedoon to speak up for their rights.

Weeks ago, the UAE was able to use its ‘passport-business’ with Comoros to get Abdul-Khaleq a passport and send him into exile in Thailand. Since then, the activist is even more outspoken and detailed when speaking about the local politics and policies used against his Bedoon community. Through his twitter account and blog, Abdul-Khaleq has recently stated that there are political prisoners in Abu Dhabi that no one is speaking about. His post listed 10 Bedoon detainees, 10 Palestinian detainees, an Ethiopian, and one man with a passport from the Comoros but who is a son of an Emirati woman.

In those few weeks in exile, Abdul-Khaleq has been stating and explaining many unknown aspects of the Bedoon issue in the UAE. The country has been forcing many Bedoon into getting passports from Comoros as a way to deny them any rights to demand citizenship, although they promise them that those passports will be a temporary status for them until they get naturalized. Abdul-Khaleq also speaks for the children of Emirati women; many of them are children of Omani fathers but were born and raised in the UAE.

The UAE was heavily criticized last year for arresting the five activists and for staging a ridiculous trial for them before they were released with a pardon. This year though, the UAE has focused on arresting Islamists and stripping them off their citizenship. One can easily notice that international NGOs have issued their regular statements while media and western regimes had less interest in those arrests. Since March 2012, the UAE has detained over 50 men, including two human rights lawyers.

By sending Abdul-Khaleq into exile the UAE has chosen the wrong answer to the issues of statelessness and its authoritarian system. We haven’t heard before about a stateless person who was born in a certain country and gets sent away for his activism. In general, UAE activists are noted for being diplomatic in their demands, avoiding direct criticism and accusations of corruption towards their officials in order to stay away from controversies. This is no longer the case with Abdul-Khaleq as he now defines himself as the sacrifice made to raise the issue of statelessness in the UAE.

Western media might act less concerned with the 50+ detained this year in the UAE simply because they are Islamist, and specifically, they are from the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the story of Abdul-Khaleq is different, although he is also accused of being Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) for defending the detainees.

Abdul-Khaleq is speaking of an old issue that has its activists and supporters around the region and this might explain how scores of Bedoon activists from Kuwait have shown solidarity with Abdul-Khaleq and spoke of his case as an example of the mistreatment, discrimination, and inability of Gulf regimes to solve statelessness in their countries. Abdul-Khaleq is now becoming a pioneer, a man left with no fear to stop him from exposing modern day Gulf racism.

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