MUWALLADEEN: The Half Citizens of Yemen [Archives:1998/21/Viewpoint]

May 25 1998

As chairman of the Human Rights Committee in the Consultative Council, I receive lots of appeals and complaints from people who claim their rights have been compromised. We look into claims, and contact the relevant government offices asking them to redress any wrong done.

One of the repeated complaints is the right of muwalladeen. These are Yemenis who have a foreign mother, usually from Africa or south-east Asia. Unfortunately, the darker muwalladeen undergo more severe discrimination, given a racist undertone classifying blacks as less important. More unfortunately, there is an easy scapegoat used by the discriminating officials. They say many Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, etc., are in the country illegally. Hence the need for scrutiny.

Last week, I received one serious complaint. A well-respected person approached the passport authorities in order to change an old passport into a new one. The person was told to go through the lajna (committee), which determines whether the applicant is Yemeni or not. The lajna sits in long intervals, and it never reaches a decision in one sitting. In other words, a person can remain in limbo for a few months. Then, the decision of the lajna is taken to the passport authorities which then review it, and take action accordingly. A few more months here.

Discrimination against the muwalladeen has little to do with guarding against foreigners who illegally possess Yemeni identity cards or other documents. The officials who penalize the muwalladeen themselves sell any document to anybody, if the price is right. So, the holier than thou approach turns out to be empty, as usual.

Shamelessly, the whole thing turns out to be a way of making money. The officials use the need of the muwalladeen to take advantage of them. Most of the times hefty bribes need to be paid to spare them the hassle. Other times, the demands, especially against the female muwalladeen, are just too filthy for us to discuss here.

The measures taken against the muwalladeen by government officials are simply a human rights violation. These practices should be stopped. The Government of Dr. Abdul-Karim Al-Iryani would carry the day if it were to give this matter a priority. It should recognize that it is shameful for outright racism and discrimination against some of our own to persist in a nation that takes pride in its people.

According to the constitution and laws of this country, there are citizens and there are foreigners. There is no category of half-citizens, into which the muwalladeen are being pushed. The laws of the land have to be upheld. The passport officials of course have to verify the identity of the applicants. But the process should not be used to demean some of our compatriots. Such practices should be stopped.

Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher