In search of answers, Jordan’s ‘stateless’ struggle to make ends meet

(Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — At a time when borders seemed elusive, Khalaf Alenazi and his family members roamed the deserts of Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, relying on livestock for their livelihoods. اضافة اعلان

He recalls that, in the late 90s, they could no longer depend on the desert to feed their sheep. 

“We had to sell some to be able to buy feeds for the remaining sheep,” said Khalaf, adding that they eventually lost their source of income and had to give up their nomadic lifestyle. 

In 2000, the family settled in Manshiet Al-Sulta in the northern governorate of Mafraq, only to realize that they were not as “Jordanian” as they had always assumed. When he is pulled over by a police patrol, Khalaf pulls out a different identity card that sets him apart from every other Jordanian citizen.

Signed by another member of his tribe, his “identity document” states that Khalaf belongs to the same tribe, and that his family members had lived in Jordan since the 20s of the last century. 

He also keeps a birth certificate that proves he was born in 1955 in Umm Al-Jimal in the northern region in Jordan.

However, he does not have the national number that explicitly identifies him as Jordanian and remains one of the “stateless” people in the Kingdom.

Today, he is married to two women and has seven sons and five daughters, who have also inherited his legal status. 

According to retired Civil Status and Passports Department Shuhaibar Hamdan, the department started documenting Jordanian nationals in the late seventies, creating civil records for each citizen.

In order to prove their “eligibility” for Jordanian citizenship, people were asked to submit proof that they or their ancestors had lived in the East Bank since the 20s of the last century or that they had descended from a Palestinian origin before May 15, 1948 and lived in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the period between December 1949 and February 1954. 

“Some Jordanian tribes in the South are closely related to tribes in Saudi Arabia, while others in the North are related to tribes in Syria,”

Hamdan explains to Jordan News that the proof could include tax documents, or any other document to show that they had attended school in the Kingdom or served in the army. However, there were people who could not show such proof, especially in the Badia region, according to Hamdan, who added that the department then resorted to what they called “witness testimony”, in which three witnesses from the same area had to confirm that the people in question belonged to their tribe and that they or their ancestors had lived in the country. 

“Some Jordanian tribes in the South are closely related to tribes in Saudi Arabia, while others in the North are related to tribes in Syria,” said Hamdan, explaining that many people could not submit enough evidence and could not be treated as “Jordanian” according to the law. 

As many of his relatives, including his own brother, were granted Jordanian citizenship, Khalaf cannot help but wonder why he remains excluded.

His main concern is that “(his children) would not be allowed to work at any governmental entity as they do not have the national number,” and they continue to rely on seasonal work in farms, where every worker earns JD6 a day, or daily work at factories.

As the only Jordanian citizen in the family, one of his wives receives JD68 every month from the Ministry of Social Development, an amount that he believes is not enough to cover basic needs.  

In its previous annual reports, the National Center for Human Rights has repeatedly covered the issue of the “stateless” population in Jordan, calling for an end to their dilemma.

In the latest report, the center states that Jordanian authorities had started issuing special cards to document “places of residence” for the “stateless,” which merely serve to “identify” individuals. According to the report, around 200 out of 919 eligible people received these cards. 

“(his children) would not be allowed to work at any governmental entity as they do not have the national number,”
Lawyer Issa Marazeeq, who has been covering this issue for years at the center, told Jordan News that temporary passports and residence cards are merely “momentary solutions” for an issue that should not exist in the first place. 

“The right to citizenship is one of the fundamental rights, and it is not acceptable in any way for a country like Jordan to have a stateless person,” said Marazeeq, adding that the number of stateless people is not small.

According to his estimates, the number ranges between 5,000-7,000 people, and continues to grow as people get married and have children, who inherit their legal status. 

He added that the Ministry of Interior formed a committee to review applications from “stateless” people, but their work “was very slow” and almost came to a halt following the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, as they were concerned some applicants might be Syrian citizens who would “try” to use this loophole and apply for Jordanian citizenship.

Following demands from the Center and the House of Representatives, some individuals were granted temporary passports and “residence cards,” but there “has been no definitive solution for this problem to date.”  

“You either grant them citizenship and treat them as Jordanians, or clearly tell them you’re not Jordanian according to clear evidence,” said Marazeeq.

Despite the media coverage of their issue, “stateless” people have lost hope, in his opinion, as they had fought for years to be recognized as Jordanian to no avail. 

Furthermore, many individuals of this population were born to Jordanian mothers, who could pass on their citizenship to their children if they are born to “stateless” fathers, according to the law. However, this article of the law has not been implemented either, according to Marazeeq. 

“The right to citizenship is one of the fundamental rights, and it is not acceptable in any way for a country like Jordan to have a stateless person,”

After several attempts to reach the Ministry of Interior, an official unnamed source told Jordan News that there are no “stateless” people in the country and the Ministry of Interior did not receive any applications to rectify legal status. 

Sami, 30, was born to a stateless father and was granted a temporary passport many years ago.

He said this passport, which is expired today and costs JD200 to be renewed, did very little to improve his life.

A few years ago, he applied for a work opportunity at a factory in his area. The employer asked for his identity documents to be able to cover Sami in social security, which has become mandatory in the country. 

Unable to use his own passport, Sami used the ID of a friend who wasn’t working at the time. 

“I did it once, I had to,” said Sami, explaining that they had to pay their electricity bill to avoid having it disconnected. Shortly after his appointment, other employees who knew him started calling him by his real name. He was “scared” and immediately quit his job. 

He added that he is currently working at farms, but “I work for a day and sit at home for ten days … There is no work in winter, we have to go to the valleys, but what can one person do for a whole family?”

Reflecting on his future, Sami said that he doesn’t even think of getting married, as he doesn’t want his children to face the same fate. 

Nader Sharaa, a “stateless” football coach and a father of a two-year-old son, shares the same concern.

While he speaks fondly of his achievements with boys and girls he trained in his area in Mafraq, he cannot help but worry about the future of his own son.

He doesn’t want to have other children, although he would love for his son to have siblings he could play with. 

In his opinion, fighting for one stateless child is hard enough. 
“I will try to do my best to secure a better future for him,” said Sharaa. “If I fail, I will explain everything to him when he grows up and apologize that I brought him to this world in this country as a stateless child.”

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