Emirati mothers of foreign children hope that they will soon be embraced as UAE citizens

The President has issued a directive granting them the same benefits as citizens in healthcare and education



Photo: File
Photo: File
by

Rasha Abu Baker

Published: Sun 10 Jul 2022, 3:30 PM

Last updated: Sun 10 Jul 2022, 10:49 PM

Last week, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of UAE issued a directive widely regarded as a progressive step towards improving the rights of the children of Emirati mothers born to foreign fathers, granting them the same benefits as other citizens in healthcare and education.

It is a welcome decision, one that reignites the hope of affected families to be granted full citizenship; a right many would argue, is a natural claim.

In the UAE, the child of an Emirati woman born to a non-Emirati man does not automatically qualify for citizenship and therefore is unable to benefit from full rights as an Emirati national. Even when applied for under the current rules, citizenship isn’t guaranteed and can take years to obtain. However, in the UAE, the children of Emirati mothers have, for the most part, already been able to enjoy access to free healthcare (subject to annual application and approval based on eligibility after the age of 18), and government schooling. So as of yet, it is unclear how different things will be under the new resolution but more clarification is expected to come out soon.

The announcement of the new legislation certainly demonstrates that the issue is at the forefront of priorities for the new President, being the first major announcement on internal affairs he has made since he assumed office.

Khaleej Times spoke to several mothers and children in this situation about their views on the new announcement and their aspirations for the future.

Three years at a time

“I am proud of the announcement, and I think it's a step in the right direction,” said Emirati D.A., a mother of two.

“But I hope to see a follow-up to this announcement by granting the children of Emirati mothers UAE citizenship, because while the benefits of education and medical are very important, loyalty to a country is priceless.”

“I want my children to hold the flag and be proud. I want them to feel that they are part of the community in which they belong,” she added, fighting back tears.

“I hope this announcement is the first of many more in this sad situation of children being lost in the community.”

D.A., who is in her thirties, has been married to her European husband of Arab origin for five years, and both their children were born in Abu Dhabi.

“As a mother raises her children, you always know that she raises them in her own culture. So, no matter where my husband's from, I will raise them the way I was raised, which is with Emirati culture and values. So whether my children have the Emirati passport or not, they will grow up to be Emirati. So what's the harm in giving them the citizenship?”

She added, “My emotions get very conflicted when I see golden visas provided, and even citizenship, to other foreigners. I’m not saying to take that away, but I can’t help but question, is loyalty perceived as people bringing businesses into the country is or is loyalty perceived by someone being born and raised by an Emirati mother?”

For D.A., the moment of realisation of what it would be like as a mother of a foreigner came shortly after the birth of her first child.

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“This all came to light around 2019, when my baby was born, and I had to issue her a visa. It was probably the least favourite moment of my whole experience of being a mum for the first time,” she said.

“I remember it being quite shocking, actually, because I never really had to sponsor anyone other than the help before. So, when I had to sponsor my own child, I felt like oh, wow. It was quite the reminder that my child was not part of this country, that she was a foreigner.”

More recently, when D.A.’s daughter’s visa was up for the three year renewal, she couldn’t help but feel a little emotional.

“It made me sad, the fact that just like I have to renew my nanny's visa, I have to renew my daughter's – who is half Emirati. It's a very sensitive thing which kind of pinches your heart a little.”

She continued: “I'm very proud to be from the UAE and all this doesn’t alter my loyalty or patriotism, however, as the UAE moves to a global benchmark, and given that this [right] is something that is very normal for most women around the world, surely our children should be considered as their blood is half Emirati.”

D.A.’s children are entrenched in Emirati culture and traditions, and like most other parents, she and her husband are working hard to secure the future of their children to ensure they grow up self-assured. As part of that, D.A. is already preparing herself on how to address one imminent question surrounding their sense of belonging.

“There's going to be a lot of conversations that I will have to have with our children to explain to them why they aren't entitled to the Emirati nationality, yet my brother's children and wife [who is a foreign national] are,” she explained. “I always try to think of a holding statement to give them when they ask me that question. Should I be honest with them? Or should I just give them a very diplomatic answer? I never know which way to go. But if I’m being honest, I think it will affect them emotionally.”

D.A. said, with her children having European citizenship, they may be in a more privileged situation than others in terms of global access and recognition, but she stresses she is still raising her children with Emirati values and that the family has no plans to relocate.

“Our loyalty belongs to the UAE and my children have been born and are being raised here. So they are not strangers coming from abroad and suddenly claiming to want to be part of the motherland, part of this nation.

“I also feel for other people who are in less privileged circumstances, and the fact that it's plain wrong to discriminate against citizens based on their gender… The UAE has progressed in many ways. This is definitely an area that must be resolved.

“I am so optimistic that things will change as I've seen huge changes over the last couple of years, and I think that the leadership is extremely forward thinking. I believe in the leadership and I believe that they have the best interests of their people at heart, so I believe that one day it will happen,” she said.

“Regardless, I know that my children will grow up to be proud of where they're from.”

The twenty year wait

For Z.M., who is in her sixties, the news meant that all hope is not lost, and that perhaps her son and daughter will still have the chance of enjoying the privileges of being Emirati one day.

“I felt that maybe this is the precursor for bigger things… and that soon, our children will be proud holders of an Emirati passport,” she said.

“They have been waiting for over twenty years. Today, they are both in their forties. A lifetime has passed, but we are still waiting. We are still hopeful.”

“The announcement means the issue is being looked into again,” noted Zainab. “I am not clear what it all entails, but perhaps that even children over 18 will now be entitled to free healthcare. It’s still something,” she added, “since my children have had to rely on medical insurance.”

She disclosed that many children of Emirati women were anticipating a major announcement when the country celebrated its Golden Jubilee last December.

“Many people were saying they were sure that it would happen then… but it didn't happen,” Z.M. shared. “Yet,” she noted, “Golden visas are being given to others. You see things like that and it hurts deeply.”

With little to no progress made on her children’s citizenship application, and after numerous efforts with authorities, she says she is only left with prayer. “I pray every day and with every prayer I ask Allah to grant my children what they deserve,” she said.

Her son, a Kenyan national, is an aircraft engineer who studied at a renowned university in London, UK, and yet, Z.M. said, was unable to find a job in the UAE.

“He got offered a job in Oman and took it.”

Z.M.’s son, N.F. said: “I am encouraged by the measures taken to ensure that children of Emirati mothers have the same facilities on education and health, providing much-needed relief on such expenses. This is a clear demonstration of the positive strides the President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed is making towards improving quality of life, happiness and opportunities for Emiratis.”

His sister, N.F. said: “We love this country and we would be more than happy to be part of the Emirati people and work hard and build the nation and prove ourselves.”

Identity crisis and rejection

Another Emirati mother of two boys, 7 and 8, S.A.B., echoed the general sentiment towards the new announcement saying it made her family feel “seen”.

She said: “It’s promising because we feel like we are being seen, that we are on the radar. It’s a positive move by the new president, he's telling us that ‘we see you and we are thinking of you’.”

S.A.B., 35, and her children, whose father is of Pakistani origin, face both internal and external struggles. Coming from a Bedouin Emirati family, she was not expected to marry outside her culture, and was cut off from her family for a year.

However, she said that after seeing their grandchild, her parents accepted their daughter’s decision. “The biggest hero in my life is my dad. He said ‘it's okay, go ahead. If he's okay for you, then he's okay for us’.”

“As soon as they saw my firstborn, my mum started crying, and they welcomed me back.”

But that welcome came with a condition, and S.A.B. was made to promise not to disclose the circumstances to anyone else apart from her parents.

“No one from my family knew that my children were not local. Only my parents know because my family didn't want anyone else to know, and that was part of the peacekeeping in my family. It's like a small town and everyone knows the family name, so they said even if the kids will talk, that would be a problem. So we made sure the kids don’t talk about it at all.”

“My parents only accepted the marriage after seeing (their grandchild), but they made me promise to keep that from people, including my children.”

Her children did not realise they were not Emirati and only found out last year, in a very public and harsh way.

“My children discovered that they're not local only months ago, because of Covid.”

It was a nurse at school who was giving out PCR results to the students by calling out their names and nationality when the children’s classmates made the inevitable discovery to their embarrassment and were labelled liars by their peers.

“They both came crying from school that day. I had to pick them up. It was the hardest thing. I told them to be proud of who they are.

“So the truth eventually came out, and I was like, I'm done. I need them to have this confidence in themselves, to be proud of who they are.”

Unfortunately, the bullying has increased since that incident and S.A.B. is planning to pull the children out of their school. “The bullying is becoming worse so I’m going to change their school. They're even seeing a psychologist to help get over this.”

She said that while her children feel Emirati, without any official documented proof, they feel rejected and torn. “What I want them to feel is that they have rights in this country: they are half Emirati, they have Emirati blood in them.

“We need to have equality between us and local men. We just need to die knowing that our children will be okay.”

On the prospect that they could be declared Emirati one day, S.A.B. said: “I get tears in my eyes every time I think of that moment. I cannot tell you what that would mean for us. A lifetime of worry would be lifted.”

“The healing of our hearts and minds would finally begin if my country accepts me and my children and they are finally recognised. We will feel like part of the community.”

Waiting for acceptance

A.A. and his twin brother were born in Abu Dhabi to an Emirati mother and a Lebanese father. He submitted his application for Emirati citizenship five years ago to the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, when he was 18 years old.

He said his four other siblings and him are currently waiting for a decree to grant them Emirati citizenship, but added that he is grateful to still be able to enjoy the benefits the government provides them.

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“Our leaders are always ahead of the curve in doing good and providing comfort and a decent life for citizens and non-citizens. My siblings and I have benefited greatly from the free education and healthcare that is provided to us as children of Emirati mothers, and look forward to hearing more about what the new decision entails.”

A.A. said although he is half Lebanese, he says his national identity and belonging is affiliated to this country. “It is true that I hold another nationality, but I was born, was raised and live as part of an Emirati family. I was educated and grew up on this land. I always feel that I belong to this country and its people.”

“Citizenship will change my life in terms of stability, job opportunities and living in the UAE without residency and a sponsor. It would also have a big psychological effect,” he added.

“It would finally reinforce the feelings that I already have, which is that I belong to this dear nation. It would be an indescribable feeling.”


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