Jordanian progeny gain ground in nationality fight

Jordanian nationality law defines nationality through paternal bonds, leaving children born to foreign fathers in limbo.

    Jordanian Nationality Law defines nationality first through a 'blood bond' derived from the father's citizenship [Reuters/File Photo]
    Jordanian Nationality Law defines nationality first through a 'blood bond' derived from the father's citizenship [Reuters/File Photo]

    Amman, Jordan - Kaleel Faraj was born and raised in Jordan, attended local schools and found a job in a private hospital in the capital Amman not far from where he was born 30 years ago.

    Today, he is a slender man whose worn face conveys the sadness of one who has lost hope.

    "I have spent all my in life in the kingdom but I don't count as [a] Jordanian citizen," Faraj explains from his home in Baqaa, a Palestinian refugee camp 30km northwest of the capital.

    "My mother is Jordanian but my father is not; this is my problem," he said.

    Forged in 1954, the Jordanian Nationality Law defines nationality first through a "blood bond," derived from the father's citizenship to those born to Jordanian fathers and foreign mothers, but denying the same liberties when, as in Faraj's case, the mother is Jordanian but the father is foreign.

    The distinction means that Faraj and his four siblings are denied basic rights. And they are not alone.

    Official figures estimate that some 89,000 Jordanian women are married to non-Jordanians, most commonly Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, and Iraqis, leaving about 360,000 children without citizenship registered at the Civil Status and Passports Department.

    "The worst moments are when police stop you in the street and ask for your ID during routine controls," Faraj says.

    "Officials start saying things like: 'Where's your passport?' 'You are a foreigner in Jordan, how did you enter the country?' I only have a work permit and a birth certificate to show, but my mum is Jordanian, why am I not?" Faraj, who now works as a nurse, asks, clenching his fists.

    His father, a Palestinian refugee born in the Israeli city of Beersheba, some 10km southeast of Tel Aviv, met and married his mother, Nemah Farjallah, a Jordanian of Palestinian origins, in 1981. But he left the family when Faraj was just a toddler.

    Unlike their mother, who enjoyed nationality rights under Jordan's former policy of automatic citizenship for Palestinians from the West Bank, Faraj and his siblings are not entitled to the same.

    Since first implementing it in 1948, Jordan has signed several sections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it has left Article 15 of the document, which states that every individual has the right to nationality, unsigned.

    Dual nationality of two Arab states is also not permissible as a result of a decision by the League of Arab States, something Jordanian politicians have consistently cited as a reason to block citizenship rights.

    'We grew hopeful'

    But small gains were made last November, when Jordan's government passed a bill which entitles people like Faraj to "service-related privileges".

    Provided that their mothers have been residing in Jordan for at least five years, children of foreign fathers have won the right to free high school education and health services in government hospitals, second priority after Jordanian citizens in all professions, and exemption from any work permit fees.

    The bill also allows them to own property, make investments and obtain a driving licence for passenger cars. Special electronic identification cards will be issued in June 2015, but residency permits will still need to be renewed yearly.

    But while these promised new rights should have been put into place by now, many activists say nothing has changed yet.

    One of them is Ali Suleiman, a 34-year-old graphic designer living in an impoverished area of Amman.

    His late father was a Syrian who moved to Jordan in 1975, spent three decades in the country, started a family with a Jordanian woman and is now buried in one of the city's cemeteries.

    Still, neither he nor Suleiman were ever granted citizenship.

    Like his father, Suleiman is married to a Jordanian woman with whom he has three children. He tells Al Jazeera that, as a dad himself, he is reliving the nightmare of his own childhood.

    "After the announcement of the new rights we grew hopeful but, with the passing of time, we have discovered nothing has been applied yet," he says.

    "We should have stopped paying work fees but I keep paying my regular 192 Jordanian dinars ($271), and when it comes to medical insurance and driving licence, still nothing has changed."

    Suleiman says no one knows what to do, and no instructions have been given regarding any of the areas mentioned in the bill.

    A long battle

    In the past, arguments against granting citizenship to such children have been based on the large presence of Palestinian refugees in the country.

    Legislators insisted that granting Jordanian citizenship to the children of Palestinian men could have shifted the demographic balance in the kingdom towards the Palestinians.

    But decades of regional conflicts have brought an influx of Iraqi and Syrian refugees, introducing new concerns.

    Jawad Anani, Jordan's former deputy prime minister, says the demographic issue has always been a sensitive one for Jordanians who originally inhabited this land.

    "They feel the influx of non-Jordanians could have repercussions on the limited work, energy, resources and mounting budget deficit," Anani explains.

    But political and civilian activists say these are excuses.

    Politician Mustafa Hamarneh and his Mubadarah legislative bloc, which currently has 16 members of parliament and makes up about 10 percent of all deputies of Jordan's lower house, spearheaded the battle for last November's "service-related privileges" but this, he says, was tough.

    "The cabinet was against the bill until the day before voting on the country's budget last November," Hamarneh told Al Jazeera.

    "I went to see the prime minister the day before the vote, called the minister of finance [...] and told him either 'you give us the civil rights or your government falls tomorrow because we will not vote in favour of the budget and you won't have enough votes for it to pass'."

    On voting day, Hamarneh's bloc approved the budget, and won the new civil rights.

    "[My five children] haven't enjoyed any rights," says Faraj's mother, Farjallah.

    "I have debt raising and sending my children to private universities; now they work in the private sector without insurance, because there is no place for them in the public sector."

    The mother of five is the newly appointed director of the grassroots movement dubbed, "My mother is Jordanian and her nationality is a right for me," a group of about 200 women who have waged sit-ins and marches for the past eight years to raise awareness about their situation.

    The advancements made from the bill in November are a first step for the 57-year-old retired teacher, but she's still waiting for their implementation.

    "We'll wait until June to see if the new rights are enforced, when the new electronic card is issued. If they will not be put in place, we will take back to the streets, because my children are not half citizens," she says.

    "'Raise your head, you are Jordanian,' our king recently told us in a televised message, but how can they? Give us our rights and we will raise our heads."

    Follow Elisa Oddone on Twitter: @aglaiatalia

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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