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Lawmaker sparks debate on citizenship for foreign residents

The majority leader floated the idea of naturalising long-term residents.



MP Ali Azim sparked a polarising debate over the weekend after floating the idea of amending citizenship laws to naturalise long-term foreign residents.

“There are foreigners who have been living in the Maldives for more than 30 years having become proud grandparents here. What do you think of granting citizenship to such ‘foreigners’?” the Maldivian Democratic Party’s parliamentary group leader asked on Twitter.

The question drew more than 360 responses with widely divergent views. The contrasting opinions ranged from conditional support to strong opposition with nationalistic, xenophobic and racist overtones.

Opposition figures warned that it would threaten the homogeneity of Maldivian society.

“Granting citizenship to non-Maldivian would cause irreparable damage in the long-term future to the one ethnicity, one religion, and one language in this small community,” tweeted former housing minister Dr Mohamed Muizz, deputy leader of the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives.

“Granting citizenship to foreigners is something that would decimate the entire Maldivian nationhood, change the Maldives into a hive of ethnic unrest, and further alienate Maldivians in the Maldives,” warned opposition lawmaker Adam Shareef Umar, former defence minister.

Several people agreed with the former ministers.

“Absolutely NO, Azim. I wish u love and care for our unique oneness country more than now, much more than before. Don’t try t DILUTE our Dhivehin we have survived so far to this age of time. They could be well behaved proud foreign grandparents, BUT No,” wrote a veteran of the foreign service, who drew ridicule and condemnation.

Some welcomed granting citizenship to skilled migrants on a small scale whilst others suggested a public referendum would be needed.

The existing citizenship law allows foreigners to apply for naturalisation. The conditions include being a Muslim, residing in the Maldives continuously for 12 years, and ability to speak the local Dhivehi language. The applicant must also renounce citizenship of his or her native country.

Local historian Mohamed Najih highlighted the plight of long-term residents married to Maldivians who were forced to “go through the same procedure like any new foreigner every year, with medicals and visa application.”

Several Maldivians with foreign parents and spouses shared the struggles of their loved ones who do not qualify for services such as the universal health insurance scheme.