Filmmaker: Remi Itani

"Sometimes I get invited to gatherings outside Qob Elias, but I turn them down because I don't have an ID," says 18-year-old Ali Hassan Matar, a member of the Abu Eid tribe. "I might get caught by police or intelligence officers. I can't put my life in danger. I'm missing out on so many things on offer."

Ali is effectively stateless, having neither Lebanese citizenship nor an identity card. People like him who have no travel documents find it difficult to get a job and are denied access to free medical care, education and other state services. There are between 40,000 and 50,000 Abu Eid tribe members across Lebanon, including around 25,000 in the Bekaa Valley in central Lebanon.

I have six boys and two girls, but none of them has citizenship.

Hassan Ali Matar, elder in Abu Eid tribe

The Abu Eid tribe traces its ancestry to the Arabian Peninsula. They were once nomadic and moved seasonally between Syria and Lebanon. In those days, a lack of ID was not a problem. But their life as wandering herdsmen changed as national borders and political change forced them to settle in towns and villages.

Since settling in the 20th century, the Abu Eid people have gone through the process of applying for Lebanese nationality. While some have succeeded, like tribal elder Hassan Ali Matar, others are still waiting for the political decisions necessary to grant them identity and legal status.

"I have six boys and two girls, but none of them has citizenship," explains Hassan. "In 1994, the naturalisation decree was issued in Lebanon. The Lebanese authorities invited us to apply but middlemen confused the process...They told us to apply for ourselves then but later for our children. In the end, we got Lebanese citizenship but our children didn't."

What the Abu Eid tribe members call "the 1994 decree" was the last change to Lebanese nationality laws. Lebanon's demographic makeup forces politicians to tread a delicate sectarian balance - so naturalisation and citizenship are sensitive issues and can potentially tip the balance of power.

In their nomadic past, the Abu Eid people were stateless but moved wherever they pleased. Today, Hassan's young sons Ali and Madi cannot even move within the country they have settled in.

With no freedom of movement, Ali spends a lot of time in a virtual world, making friends online. "The internet is my only way of communicating with people. The internet is my life... I can't go out of Qob Elias but on the internet, I can go to any country I want. That is my dream."

The only form of ID young unregistered men like Ali can get is a card from the mayor of Qob Elias called an "attestation", certifying that they live in the town; but it's not an officially recognised form of identification.

Ali's brother, Madi, works for a dairy company and has some plans. "A few days ago, I told my father that I intended to marry. But if I had children, how would I register them?," asks a frustrated Madi. "They need a registered father. But if I don't have an ID card, I can't register them... I've had enough. Can't I even get married?"

His younger brother, Ali, has already been knocked back. "I fell in love once. But when she found out I don't have an ID, she left me," he says.

In Lebanon, there are thousands of stateless people like the Abu Eid tribe. They cannot access free public services like education and healthcare, have no freedom of movement, cannot own property, marry or work legally because of their lack of legal status. They can't vote or run for public office.

One of Lebanon's many political challenges is overdue reform of its citizenship laws, to address the problems faced by its many vulnerable communities. Not doing so might cause more problems than it solves.

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Source: Al Jazeera