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Born in Jordan, But Treated Like Foreigners by its Universities

AMMAN, Jordan—Jordanian women who have married foreigners face an unpleasant educational situation—their children are treated as foreigners when they seek admission at Jordan’s public universities.

Jordanian laws grant citizenship through fathers, leaving thousands of students in Jordan without full rights to attend Jordanian public universities. Jordan has a high expatriate population and millions of Palestinian, Iraqi and Syrian refugees among its own population of about seven million, increasing the chances that Jordanian citizens may find marriage partners who come from other countries.

Nearly 90,000 Jordanian women are married to foreigners, the Minister of Interior Hussein Majali said in November. They’ve produced almost 340,000 children.

“There are no rules forbidding us to marry those from other nations, but when we do, they deal with us badly,” said Saud, a Jordanian woman married to an Egyptian who asked for her last name to be withheld.

Mothers like Saud often are forced to send their children to private universities that charge $10,000 for a degree. State-supported universities cost around $4,000 in fees, according to Jordan’s Ministry of Higher Education.

“I don’t have enough money to help my son go to private university,” Saud said. “So what can I do?

Saud’s son, Ahmed, claimed his good grades would have guaranteed him a spot at a top Jordanian university. His only barrier is his lack of Jordanian citizenship in a country he calls home. “It’s my right,” he said. “Why I should pay for my parents’ actions?”

Unfortunately, Ahmed is facing an uphill battle.

“I see a lot of outstanding students from the children of Jordanian women [with foreign fathers],” said a University of Jordan linguistics professor, Safa’a Al Safi. “But unfortunately, despite this superiority, they don’t get a scholarship because the government considers them non-Jordanians. It is very sad.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research, Mahmoud al-Khalayleh, said the government was trying to address the problem. Public universities say they plan to set aside a percentage of seats for non-Jordanians in part because of the legal status of children from marriages involving Jordanian women. But they have yet to announce the details of such a plan or set a timetable for it.

Interior Minister Majali similarly announced a slew of proposed reforms recently to address the status of children born of Jordanian women and expatriate men. As long as the children have resided in the country permanently for five years, they can work, obtain a driver’s license and enjoy other benefits of citizenship. The children are also able to get government health care and to attend primary and secondary school. But the government has yet to set a timeline for taking further action on reforms.

Human-rights activists have been calling for full-citizenship as outlined in the Jordanian Nationality Act. The law states that “every Arab residing in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for not less than 15 years consecutively is entitled to Jordanian citizenship.”

However, the Jordanian government has neglected that rule in recent years to block two million Palestinian refugees from becoming Jordanian, according to a political scientist at the University of Jordan, Mustafa Massoud. “Some Arab countries, such as Egypt and Morocco, allow women to pass their nationality on to their children,” said Massoud. “But the controversy [in Jordan] still exists for political reasons due to the sensitivity of the current situation.”

That explanation doesn’t help people who grew up in Jordan and should be able to send their children to low-cost local universities, said Nemat Habashna, a Jordanian citizen whose Moroccan husband died recently, leaving her to raise her six children alone.

Habashna is leading the campaign to change the situation. The campaign’s slogan is “My Mother is Jordanian and Her Nationality is My Right.”

“While I welcome the move by the government to extend privileges to the children of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians, we don’t have them yet,” she said.


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