THINKING ALOUD : Dual citizens and non-citizens — Razi Azmi - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Source :\06\20\story_20-6-2012_pg3_4

Now living happily as citizens of their adoptive countries, the vast majority of them nevertheless remain loyal and loving citizens of their country of origin

Much has been said in the press and on TV on the issue of dual citizenship or dual nationality, following the Supreme Court’s suspension of membership of parliament by holders of dual citizenship. Like the learned judges, many commentators have also cast doubts on their loyalty to their country of origin.

This is ironic, for in all countries where migrants have settled, with or without the privilege of dual nationality, there is a strong perception that they remain loyal to their country of origin. As a result, in times of economic crisis, they are made convenient scapegoats; in times of war, they are regarded as disloyal and dangerous. There is the well-known example of Americans of Japanese descent being interned by the US authorities after the Pearl Harbour attack in 1941.

Like primary citizenship, the ‘second’ is also an accident of one’s birth in most cases, passed from parent to child, requiring neither the taking of any oath of allegiance nor the swearing of any loyalty. In any case, patriotism and loyalty are not the products of birth certificates, passports or oaths of allegiance, but of association, upbringing, family and personal history.

One particularly ill-informed opinion on the subject has come from a Pakistani in Canada in a Pakistani daily. Titled rather menacingly, ‘Dual nationals cannot be loyal to either country’, it refers to “Rich Pakistanis — who pretty much can buy American or Canadian passports...Pakistanis who can afford this expensive insurance policy, through money or skills...”

For every immigrant who might have bought his way to a western country, there are thousands who arrived there with little more than their personal belongings, some with degrees, some with skills, others with nothing but their strong desire to uplift themselves and their families. Many fled there to escape violence, oppression and discrimination in their own country. Now living happily as citizens of their adoptive countries, the vast majority of them nevertheless remain loyal and loving citizens of their country of origin, even those whose ‘motherland’ compels them to renounce their citizenship if they take another. The last category includes Indians, millions of whom maintain the closest possible affinity with their motherland while prospering in western countries. France, Italy and Portugal have multiple reserved seats in their national parliaments for expatriates.

By far, the largest proportion of legal immigrants to the US, UK, France and Germany has arrived there as a result of being sponsored by their spouses, sons, daughters, parents, brothers or sisters; and to Canada, Australia and New Zealand as skilled migrants. Everywhere in the west, a large number have settled as refugees or asylum-seekers. Thousands of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and others have become US citizens as the lucky winners of a lottery under the Diversity Visa programme. Where being ‘rich’ has ever entered the equation, only the author of the above article knows!

A joke made the rounds in Moscow after US-USSR relations began to improve in the 1970s. It had the Communist Party chief Leonid Brezhnev in a state of shock when told by his Prime Minister Aleksei Kosygin that if Soviet authorities lifted travel restrictions to the US, no one would ever return and only he (Brezhnev) would remain in the Soviet Union.

The real issue is not dual citizenship but residency, meaning which country is the primary residence of the person in question. The present Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard is British by birth. The former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner always maintained his UK citizenship. Michaelle Jean, the Governor-General of Canada, renounced her French citizenship only after taking oath of office, and in order to avoid controversy. Henri Duynhoven retained his Dutch citizenship while being a member of the New Zealand parliament. Most famously, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor of California while maintaining his Austrian citizenship.

Quite different from the non-issue of ‘dual citizens’ is the very real issue of ‘non-citizens’. Entire communities or ethnic groups are sometimes denied citizenship of the country in which they have been living for many generations. They remain stateless in the state of their birth and in a world with nearly 200 states.

The Rohingyas of Burma (Myanmar), who fall in this category, have recently been in the news. There are an estimated 800,000 of them in Burma and another 300,000 living as refugees in Bangladesh. Rohingyas are originally from Bangladesh, who long ago migrated and settled in the adjoining region of Burma called Arakan (now renamed Rakhine). They happen to be Muslims, and are despised in Burma for both their religion and their ethnicity. Denied citizenship and denounced as intruders, they remain stateless in their own country.

The 30 million or so Kurds living in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria face discrimination everywhere. Nearly 300,000 Syrian Kurds were deprived of their citizenship in 1962 in a move to ‘Arabicise’ the resource-rich northeast region. They exist without nationality, passports or rights.

A million or so Biharis have been living in Bangladesh since 1971 as stateless citizens without any rights whatsoever. Mercifully, in 2008, the Bangladesh High Court approved voting and citizenship rights to 150,000 of them.

In the early 1990s, Bhutan expelled people of Nepalese origin after stripping them of citizenship. Denied citizenship in Nepal, about 100,000 of them now live there as stateless people, joining 800,000 Nepalese who ‘do not have confirmed nationality’ due to some legal complications.

The list of minority ethnic populations who have no official ‘nationality’ and remain stateless or in a state of limbo in the twilight zone of semi-citizenship and virtual statelessness is long. It covers many countries and is a stigma on the international community. As for dual nationals, they are no different from ordinary citizens anywhere, neither villains nor heroes, neither traitors nor chest-thumping nationalists. No one anywhere needs to sit a loyalty test, which are worthless anyway. But ‘sole-nationality’ zealots and patriots should do their ‘duty to God and country’ by providing equal, non-discriminatory citizenship to all citizens. And to those non-citizens who know no other country and call that country home.

The writer, a dual citizen of Pakistan and Australia, is a former academic with a doctorate in modern history and can be reached at

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