Say they feel strongly bound by blood to their ancestral homeland.
At least five Liberian diaspora organizations have sent a letter to the Liberian Senate pointing out that the automatic loss of citizenship for 500, 000 Liberians naturalizing abroad is a serious legal hurdle facing thousands of Liberians who intend to maintain their Liberian citizenship.
The five groups are the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), the European Federation of Liberian Associations (EFLA), the Federation of Liberian Communities in Australia (FOLICA), Inc., Conference of Liberian Organizations in the Southwestern United States (COLOSUS) and the United Liberian Association in Ghana (ULAG).
Also attested to the letter to the Liberian Senate is Mr. John F. Lloyd, National Chairman Coalition of Concern Liberians (CCL).
They told the Senate that they feel strongly bound by blood to their ancestral homeland. More importantly, naturalization abroad is a privilege subject to conditions that can be withdrawn but their Liberian citizenship is a birthright.
Pointing out that words are inadequate to express how enormously grateful “we are for this opportunity to discuss Dual Citizenship in the Senate,” they said the vast majority of “us were uprooted by intractable conflicts that forced us to settle abroad. As immigrants, we are faced with enormous challenges almost on a daily basis, and we have to do what we can to get by.”
They said in truth, “assuming citizenship abroad is a tough decision for many Liberians, and often it is more about survival, and bread and butter issue for our families and relatives back home. Nearly all Liberians that have assumed citizenship abroad have done so not with the intent to abandon their Liberian citizenship but to increase their opportunities and chances of survival.”
The group said “One major benefit of being a citizen in many countries is the opportunity to acquire government jobs. In the United States, for example, many federal, state and local government jobs require citizenship. Some of the best jobs in the United States are federal government jobs and are only available to citizens.
“Today, there are hundreds of Liberians and those of Liberian parentage who are postal workers, Peace Corps, law enforcement officers, lawyers, court clerks, doctors, registered nurses, engineers and other professionals working for the United States federal government and other governments in Europe or Australia. We strongly believe that Liberian professionals who desire to return home should be seen as assets to the land of our nativity. Additionally, there is a huge pool of Liberian athletes abroad who could help to increase Liberia’s chances in international competitions such as the Olympics but they are dual citizens.”
They added, “For many of our young people in the United States, joining the military after high school or college affords them the best employment opportunities which come with good salaries, amazing benefits, incredible pension and good educational packages. But the Alien and Nationality law prescribes automatic loss of citizenship for enlisting in a foreign army.”
They informed the senators that, “nearly all Liberians abroad cannot afford the cost of college education for themselves and their children. In the United States, Liberian families rely heavily on financial assistance, including student loans and government grants, for college education. But only citizens and eligible non citizens can receive government financial assistance.
“Legal residents with expired green cards will always have to renew their cards to remain eligible, and this takes time and is expensive. Moreover, certain government grants such as Fulbright scholarships are not available to non-citizens who have legal permanent residency status in the United States. Several foundations also provide scholarships only to citizens.
“When the war was raging,” they informed the Senate, “many of us were faced with high-pressure situations to get family members and relatives out to safety. Therefore, many Liberians opted to gain citizenship abroad so that their family members and relatives could join them. Thousands came to the United States, Canada, Australia and several European countries. Many remain the only lifelines for relatives in Liberia, sending remittances each month in millions of United States dollars.”
They said many Liberians who fled the country are now reaching retirement age. “Some are returning home and many are planning to do so out of the desire to contribute to the nation-building efforts and to establish businesses. Many will leave behind families including children and grandchildren as it is difficult to uproot a family that has already settled, and jobs in Liberia are scarce. But if you are not a citizen, staying long outside could mean losing the ability to return to families for visits.”
They said circumstances and situations dictated what they did in the best interests of their families and relatives in Liberia. “As terrible as the Liberian civil war was, it presented unique opportunities to thousands of Liberians to re-settle abroad. Today, there is almost no city, town or village in Liberia that does not have family members residing in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. This is something we must celebrate because it is opening up tremendous opportunities for families and relatives on both sides of the Atlantic.”
The group, also known as the All-Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship, appealed to the Senate to support dual citizenship and to vote for the bill introduced by Senator Varney Sherman, because it will adequately address concerns about unscrupulous dual citizens fleeing from prosecution for corruption.
The letter, approved by Emmanuel S. Wettee, Chairman of the All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship, made references to countries such as South Africa, Israel, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Slovenia that experienced high refugee populations but allow their citizens or descendants to hold dual citizenships.
The group said the loss of citizenship will be a nightmare for 500,000 Liberians because only a citizen can own real property in Liberia. “Many Liberians abroad, particularly those who acquired or inherited real properties and those who wish to do so, want to return home someday and participate in the development of the country. Many have the potential to invest and set up businesses and spur economic activities throughout the country but they cannot legally own real properties. Needless to say, only Liberians and those of Liberian parentage can develop Liberia, and outsiders can only help.”