On March 3, 2013, as a means of curbing illegal immigration, the Civil Status Authority implemented a ban on issuing identity cards to those unable to present legal documents proving their Yemeni nationality.
According to the ban, the provision of Yemeni identity cards for Muwaladeen (“mixed race”—in this case being the child of a Yemeni national and a foreign national) born in the Horn of Africa is to be stopped. However, Muwaladeen born in the Gulf, Europe, and Asia, provided their fathers were born in Yemen, can still be issued identity cards.
In a phone call to the Yemen Times, Ahmed Saif, head of the Civil Status Authority, said “it’s not an official ban but we have established a committee formed by the state minister in each governorate to support Yemenis or Muwaladeen to get identity cards when they provide their personal documents. As for the Muwaladeen who were born in Gulf Countries, Asia, the US and Europe and have their personal documents, they get the identity cards without any obstacles. This is meant to protect the country from illegal migration and isn’t considered discrimination.”
Khalid Ali Saeed Shanon, a 37-year-old mixed race activist and founding member of the Sons of the Migrants Muwaladeen Organization, spoke to the Yemen Times about the issue.
Ahmed Saif said it's not an official ban but you say it is. What is your opinion?
First of all, they always say that it's not an official ban. They said they are not allowed to issue identity cards to the Muwaladeen outside the country, particularly to those of African origin, except for the Muwaladeen who were born in the Gulf Countries. There is no need to differentiate between the Muwaladeen of African origins and those who were born in the Gulf.
Saif said there is no discrimination but, unlike many Muwaladeen who were born in African countries, most Muwaladeen in the Gulf have identity documents from the countries they were born in.
The Muwaladeen who were born in Africa can get documents from Yemeni embassies there for their identity card. However, I don't understand why the ban made an exception.
But why do you oppose this law although it intends to protect your rights?
Those Muwaladeen who were born in the Gulf get the identity card easily but those of African origins should bring documents and then get approval from the sheikh of the village where their father or mother were born. Why don’t they receive equal treatment?
Don’t you think the reason some don't encounter obstacles is because they might have identity documents?
Those Muwaladeen who were born in Africa also have identity documents.
Saif said this is a mechanism by the state to ban illegal migration into the country. What do you think?
The government knows who are illegal immigrants and I don't think a person will demand an identity card unless he is a Yemeni citizen.
Have you encountered any problems here?
I know people who left their properties and emigrated and when their sons came back and requested identity cards, they were asked to bring an approval letter from a sheikh in the village he belongs to. However, they encountered problems because the sheiks in the villages feared that the Muwaladeen may demand their properties and demanded that they concede their properties to get the approval letter. I know people who became mentally ill because of this.
Have you filed complaints about this?
Yes, and the state knows about it.
What is your opinion about the committee?
I heard that the committee comes [to the migration and passport authority] every three months and I think it's impossible for people to stay here without identity cards for three months.
You are against getting approval letters from sheikhs in villages. Why?
Of course I'm against it because, as I told you earlier, a person may lose his rights to his property to get this letter.
Let us move on to talk about the organization devoted to protecting the rights of migrants and those of mixed raced descent. How was Sons of the Migrants Muwaladeen Organization established?
Many people talked and wrote about the suffering of migrants, especially those of mixed race descent. I also noticed the suffering of these groups and this suffering continued to increase. The identification card cost them YR30,000 to YR50,000 ($140 to $233). This is a matter of extortion. This made me raise the question: why shouldn’t we have an organization to defend the rights of these people. Some people do not know what to do.
Could you give us a brief introduction to the mission, the vision and the goals of the organization?
The vision of the organization is that [migrants in Yemen] should have the right to run for election and the right to study at colleges. The message is that the rights of migrants should be recognized and they should not be discriminated against. Migrants are a big presence and they should not be looked down upon. Even if migrant wants to run for the presidential election, his demand shouldn’t be dismissed.
But the Yemeni constitution stipulates that candidates for presidential elections must have Yemeni parents.
This is the constitution of the pre-revolution period. After the revolution, there has been a need for a civil state. And the civil state should treat everyone equally. If a mixed race person has Yemeni origins or has been nationalized, he should be considered Yemeni. As long as there is a civil state, our participation should be recognized and we should be treated equally. We demand to participate in this country. Even the right to vote is not accessible to all.
Who mainly funds this organization?
So far, there has been no one to support us. We are supporting ourselves. We are still at the beginning.
Will the government cooperate with this organization to improve the situation of immigrants in Yemen?
Immigrants are Yemeni. If we do not try to improve their situation, who will? Okay, the man with mixed race descent is not allowed to have a leading critical position. The marginalized are originally Yemenis, but they do not enter colleges or occupy high positions. Why? The marginalized also cannot enter military academies. They work only as municipality workers or drivers. That is it. Because of this, their ambition is limited to such work. Why are their abilities and skills not used? In the south during the pre-unity period, everyone was accepted. There was no discrimination. But look at the present—even if the marginalized are educated they have to work in the municipality or be a driver. The situation is not right.
When establishing the organizations, did you have co-founders?
So far I am alone, but I had friends who helped including Mohammed Al-Shatibi and the late Mohammed Kamal. They supported many of my activities.
Do you think the organization will one day be promoting a particular partisan agenda?
The organization is devoted to demanding the rights of migrants in Yemen. I do not think it will work under the umbrella of a particular party. The parties have done nothing for us.
What is your message to the government?
We want to tell them to give us a chance. We are educated and able to understand. Why do you not take our views into account? What is the problem? We took to the streets calling for a civil state. The NDC also discussed the issue of a Yemeni woman marrying a foreigner. There was the suggestion that foreigners marrying a Yemeni woman should be granted nationality. Also, why are the sons [of the couple] not granted Yemeni nationality?
Finally, do you have anything you want to add?
I wish the NDC outcomes would be implemented. And I hope that everyone plays their role. Give the youth a chance and they will improve the situation.