Statelessness elimination through legal fiction
The United Arab Emirates’ Comorian minority
in Statelessness, governance, and the problem of citizenship
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Since the early 2000s, the government of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) first elevated and then eliminated statelessness as a policy issue through a series of unconventional population management policies. The centrepiece of this effort was the U.A.E.’s mass purchase of so-called ‘economic citizenship’ passports from the African country of Comoros for at least 50,000 stateless residents. In keeping with the official narrative about statelessness as a spurious status, the stateless were allowed to ‘reveal’ their ‘true’ nationality first. For those who failed to claim one, the U.A.E. assigned Comoros nationality. Through exhaustive interviews, application forms, compilations of documentary evidence, and DNA sample collections in the fall of 2008, the U.A.E. vetted the future ‘Comorians’. Were it not for its exclusionary outcomes, the process could be termed a statelessness determination procedure or even a mapping exercise. Having concluded that the registrants were indeed without access to documentary proof of citizenship, the U.A.E. provided this diverse grouping of residents with a form of citizenship documentation, a passport, issued by the Union of Comoros. Thus, through a transactional mass ‘naturalisation’ the U.A.E. convened a new Comorian ‘minority’. After presenting the historical and political context of how this happened, this chapter discusses the process as an example of governance of statelessness through ‘legal fiction’. While the U.A.E. created a mechanism for ‘eliminating’ statelessness, the lived experience of statelessness (or, the limbo of non-incorporation) in the U.A.E. remained intact. This experience reveals the pitfalls of any project to end statelessness merely nominally.

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