Katie Cella in the Boston Review:
Aziza keeps all the files in her bedroom: expired passports, citizenship applications, letters from neighbors testifying to how long her family had lived in Ras al Khaimah. “It’s all proof,” she says, “so that when you write about us, people will know it’s not from your own mind.”
Aziza’s file records her family’s attempts to become citizens of the United Arab Emirates. For fifty years they have been writing letters, filing paperwork, petitioning officials, trying to make the right connections—and still, most of her family does not have citizenship. The experience is not unique. There is a class of people, in the U.A.E. and throughout the Arabian Peninsula, who have no nationality. They are called bidoun—Arabic for “without.”
Most bidoun were nomads in the territory of the U.A.E. or immigrated to it before 1971, when the Emirates became a formal state with borders and citizenship laws. Many immigrants, especially those who came from the hinterlands of Iran and Pakistan, never had national documentation to begin with. Others destroyed their passports en route, believing they could become citizens of the Emirates only if they held no foreign citizenship.
Today more than 100,000 stateless people live in the U.A.E., according to Refugees International and the Emirates Centre for Human Rights. In an oil-rich country famous for giving its citizens everything, the bidoun are citizens of nowhere, with little hope of being naturalized.