Evolution of the UAE passport
Al Dana Museum at the residency directorate in Dubai showcases travel documents issued since the days of Trucial States
While history could be “the biography of great men”, as Thomas Carlyle wrote, we encounter it through collections of yellow-tinged papers and photographs and artefacts. Museums, which display these archives, are the house of history. They tell the tales of nations, people, their rulers, customs, beliefs and turning points.
Al Dana Museum at the General Directorate of Naturalisation and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai is one such house of history. It has a good collection of important documents which young Emiratis must see to understand their country’s past.
The collection includes travel documents and passports of the once Trucial States with each emirate having its own separate passport before the UAE Federation came into being 42 years ago.
Colonel Ali Ghanim Al Mirri, Advisor for Naturalisation Affairs to the Director of the General Department of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, said, “The department looks forward to collecting more documents from Emiratis to enrich the museum, and show the people the history of their homeland, and the events it had witnessed. Boosting awareness about their history will help instil a sense of patriotic identity deeply in the hearts and minds of the young.”
The collection includes a free pass document issued in 1966; a passport issued in 1973; temporary passports; change of the family book (citizenship document) from just a paper to a booklet; and passports in which the holders’ photographs were not shown as at that time privacy was strongly followed by the society. The other items showcased include passports — in fact, the travel documents — of all seven emirates before the establishment of the Federation.
Over the years
“There were no passports before the establishment of the state, and most likely only a travel document was issued,” said Colonel Al Mirri.
“People travelled to GCC countries, east Asia and some African coasts for trade.”
The travel document was usually issued by the Customs Office at the Ruler’s Court of each emirate.
“Since the inception of the UAE Federation on December 2, 1971, and with the country going a long way towards modernity, passports were issued, and the nationals submitted their previous travel documents. Committees with members from reliable families with good reputation and well-known persons in each and every nook and corner of the country were formed. The members of those panels who knew every person in their respective regions were authorised to approve or reject the applications for passports those days,” he recalled.
“In the early 1980s, a family book used to be issued to each family. The document was just a piece of paper. Its character and look changed many times, and at all times it looked like a passport but of brown colour.”
“Then, the ordinary passports were of black colour and was renewed once every two years. Later, the colour changed to blue and the passport had to be renewed every five years.”
|Old Dubai passports and, right, the old family book paper. — KT photos by Mustafa Al Zarooni|
There were five types of passports then — ordinary, special, diplomatic and temporary. The rules and procedures have changed. All indigenous and well-known UAE citizens are issued passports now and the process of granting the passport at present is different, as there are investigation committees and other procedures required before issuing the document.
Colonel Al Mirri urged Emiratis who have such old and important documents to submit them to the museum so that everyone will benefit from viewing them. Thus, the museum would also expand and the public would benefit a lot in terms of understanding the history and evolution of the country as well as the naturalisation department.
The museum is open to the public throughout the year.
The naturalisations departments across the county had shown good cooperation by providing the documents in their possession to the Dubai directorate to be showcased at the museum, he added.
Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Al Mohairi, Director of the Naturalisation Department at the directorate, said the progress the UAE had seen over the last 40 years might not have been achieved without the intimate relationship between the leadership and the people, and without the sincerity of the leadership and its keenness on mobilising all resources for the convenience and welfare of the people.
Echoing the words of Colonel Al Mirri, he said it was necessary to document the history of the country, especially the pre-era of the Union, the early beginnings and the rapid development the UAE had seen after in a record short time.
The present biometric passports bear the same information saved on the Emirates identity card making it easy to use anywhere and they are safer. The passports are printed in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The printing of the UAE passport does not take more than a working day, and the document is delivered after a couple of hours if there is no overcrowding. “However, the passport renewal section sees pressure and overcrowding during the holiday and travel season,” he said.
Manner of writing names
Recently, a uniform way of writing the names of Emirati families has been adopted. The move was taken after some applicants faced some problems as their documents were being processed and issued in the old way. The department has addressed these issues.
On the possibility of changing the family name or add a new name, certain rules and processes are being followed. Put a new family name or changing it is not allowed other than in some cases — that too only in the presence of the most senior and reliable member of the clan to which an applicant wants or claims to belong. That member has to acknowledge that he is a witness and that the applicant is one of his relatives and bears the same name of the clan.
“Emirati woman does not follow the name of her husband or his clan, but she rather keeps the name of her clan or family,” he said.
In the past, some people refrained from putting their photographs on the passports, and would, instead, write “refused”, especially veiled women. Some others allowed their photographs to be pasted on the passports but featuring only veiled faces or covering part of their faces.
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