Arab Spring energizes Gulf's stateless

Wed Dec 19, 2012 9:11am EST
 
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By Rania El Gamal and Sylvia Westall

DUBAI/KUWAIT (Reuters) - When Ahmed Abdul Khaleq started campaigning for the rights of his fellow stateless people in the United Arab Emirates, he was well aware he was risking something most activists were not - his home.

He was right. After two months in jail for what he said was his human rights activism and campaigning for the stateless, he was given a choice: life in jail or deportation.

"It was a really difficult decision. I left my country, family, my mother, father and sisters in the UAE and left on my own to a strange country with different language and traditions where I knew no one," said Abdul Khaleq, 35.

"It was the first time for me to be at the airport and take a flight. I used to only see the planes flying above my head," he told Reuters, speaking by phone from a country he asked not be named.

Abdul Khaleq was able to be deported because he is a "bidoon" - an Arabic word meaning "without" - with limited access to jobs, medical care and education despite having been born in the UAE and living there all his life, after his father was unable to secure citizenship.

He was one of five activists who were jailed for criticizing the UAE rulers last year but later pardoned. He was not charged with any offence when he was jailed again in May before he was deported, he said. UAE officials say he was expelled for security reasons.

Abdul Khaleq's expulsion is a rare measure taken against stateless residents in the UAE. But his story is indicative of the plight of all bidoon, tens of thousands without citizenship under strict nationality laws in the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states, where citizens enjoy generous welfare benefits.

In the rising calls for reform in the Gulf region, the rights of the stateless have gained new attention.   Continued...

 
Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, a stateless rights activist from UAE, speaks to Reuters during an interview in Bangkok after being deported to Thailand in this July 17, 2012 file photo. When Ahmed Abdul Khaleq started campaigning for the rights of his fellow stateless people in the United Arab Emirates, he was well aware he was risking something most activists were not - his home. After two months in jail for what he said was his human rights activism and campaigning for the stateless, he was given a choice: life in jail or deportation. Abdul Khaleq's expulsion is a rare measure taken against stateless residents in the UAE. But his story is indicative of the plight of all bidoon, an Arabic word meaning "without", tens of thousands without citizenship under strict nationality laws in the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states, where citizens enjoy generous welfare benefits. To match Feature GULF-STATELESS/ REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang/Files