Dutch U-turn over passport for Somali-born MP

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The Independent Online

The Somali-born Dutch MP and critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is to be allowed to keep her passport and nationality despite falsifying her asylum application 14 years ago.

Six weeks after announcing plans to strip Ms Hirsi Ali of her citizenship, an international outcry forced the country's hardline Immigration Minister, Rita Verdonk, to reverse the decision, which had split the Netherlands.

To make matters worse, Ms Hirsi Ali's neighbours sought to have her evicted from her home, complaining about the inconvenience caused by the security needed to guarantee her safety.

Once a devout Muslim, Ms Hirsi Ali lives under 24-hour guard after a death threat against her was pinned to the chest of her ally, the film-maker Theo Van Gogh after he was murdered in 2004.

The former MP was an outspoken critic of fundamentalist Islam and worked with Van Gogh on the film Submission, which featured veiled women with texts from the Koran written on their flesh.

The passport controversy burst into life after a television documentary publicised the fact that Ms Hirsi Ali falsified information on her asylum application in 1992. Fleeing to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage, Ms Hirsi Ali gave a false name and birthday - a fact she had acknowledged publicly before accepting a parliamentary seat. The naturalisation process was completed in 1997 and Ms Hirsi Ali became a member of parliament in 2002.

Ms Verdonk's attempt to remove her citizenship caused uproar in parliament, prompting criticism even from political allies. In the storm that followed, Ms Hirsi Ali quit parliament and tearfully announced plans to speed up a planned emigration to the US to take up a job at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute think-tank. But the foreign media criticised the Netherlands for its failure to support a woman who had faced death threats for her criticism of fundamentalist Islam.

The Netherlands parliament also passed motions calling on Ms Verdonk to ensure that Ms Hirsi Ali remained a Dutch citizen, whatever the nature of her misdemeanour.

The minister paid a direct price, failing in her attempt to win the leadership of the VVD Liberal Party, despite being the favourite.

Yesterday, in a letter to the Parliament, Ms Verdonk found a figleaf to cover her change of heart, arguing that it had been legitimate for Ms Hirsi Ali to use her grandfather's name rather than her father's name, Hirsi Magen. She said: "Taking everything into consideration, I have reached the conclusion that the naturalisation decision of 1997 identifies Ayaan Hirsi Ali sufficiently and thus she did indeed correctly receive Dutch citizenship. Had it not been for the investigation I carried out, the facts that were decisive in reaching this conclusion would not have come to light."

Ms Hirsi Ali, 36, said she regretted admitting lying since the name she adopted was legitimate. She said: "The name Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the name that I was permitted to use according to Somalian law and custom and which may therefore serve as the basis for the official registration of my name in the Netherlands."

The minister's letter may not be the end of the matter as Ms Verdonk's many critics will seek to exploit her political difficulties. Left-wing politicians want to know if the ruling could affect the cases of at least 60 others stripped of their nationality for giving a false name during the asylum process.

Yesterday's announcement followed a cabinet meeting in The Hague late on Monday. Gerrit Zalm, the Deputy Prime Minister and an ally of Ms Hirsi Ali, said he had "good hope" that the case could be finalised. Mr Zalm was leader of the VVD when Ms Hirsi Ali was recruited to run for parliament. She told him at the time that she had given a false name to get asylum in the Netherlands in 1992.