GCC Finalizes Plan For Unified ID Cards

RIYADH, 26 May 2004 — The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council took another step toward closer ties among member states by finalizing a plan for unified ID cards for Gulf nationals.

The main feature of the cards, which will bear both the GCC’s and the member country’s logo, is “inter-operability” — making its features readable in all Gulf states. The cards will use smart card technology and have common security features and accessing devices.

“Though Saudi Arabia and Oman have started working on the ID project, Bahrain will be issuing the ID cards with all the features incorporated from day one. Bahrain will start issuing the cards to its citizens in the next two months,” a statement by the GCC General Secretariat on the occasion of the organization’s 23rd anniversary said yesterday.

Saudi Arabia only last week finally launched its own new electronic ID cards after a series of delays.

The planned GCC card also stores fingerprints and details of passport, driver’s license and medical records. It is slated to facilitate movement of GCC nationals among member states for work and business purposes.

Plans are also under way to ease travel restrictions for foreigners, which have been hampering the movement of hundreds of thousands of expatriates living in the six Gulf countries.

According to Fahd Al-Atawi, a Saudi businessman, more needs to be done to remove red tape “in terms of movement, employment and in terms of the business operations of Gulf citizens.”

Al-Atawi has little faith that Gulf citizens will be able to cross each others’ borders by just showing their ID cards any time soon. But he said plans for a unified GCC visa on the Schengen model will be good for foreign investors because “the GCC is one big regional economic bloc.”

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency and NGOs in the Gulf Arab states have agreed to form a joint work team and a coordination committee to carry out relief programs for refugees, a UN official said in Kuwait.

Some 17 non-governmental organizations also pledged during a meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) several million dollars of aid to refugees in the region, UNHCR external affairs officer in the Gulf Maamon Mohsen said.

“They pledged the assistance for UNHCR relief and rehabilitation programs in Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq,” Mohsen said.

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