British Overseas citizens (BOCs) of Somali heritage from Aden (Yemen)


There are many people of Somali heritage who are British Overseas citizens (‘BOCs’) today. How can this be? The answer lies in the United Kingdom’s colonial past and the provision (or lack of) made during decolonisation.  British Overseas citizenship does not confer a right of abode in the UK itself. But travelling on a UK-issued BOC passport  (as compared to a Somali passport) confers many advantages: access to a secure and reliable passport, visa-free admission to many countries, a greater willingness in in many countries to permit residence, and (where otherwise stateless) access to British citizenship by registration.

In the colonial era, the British Empire embraced a part of Somalia known as British Somaliland. Part of that territory, now called Somaliland, is self-governing; it regards itself as separate from Somalia, although it is not recognised as such by the UK. British Somaliland was a protectorate. It achieved independence on 26 June 1960 and united with former Italian Somalia (to the South) to form the independent Somali Republic on 1 July 1960.

British rule also extended to the Colony of Aden and protectorates in the Southern Arabia peninsula; places that on independence on 29 November 1967 became South Yemen. The latter united with North Yemen on 22 May 1990 to become Yemen. Many Somalis migrated across the Red Sea from British Somaliland and Italian Somalia to take advantage of the work opportunities in the town and port of Aden: a trading station in the Indian Ocean, a re-fuelling stop on the sea route to British India, and in the late-colonial era, an increasingly important oil refinery. Many Somali families moved to Aden, settled there, and had children born there. When South Yemen, with its largely Arab population, became independent what happened to these persons of Somali heritage? What nationality were they: Somali, South Yemeni, British, or a combination of one or more? In fact, many of them retained British nationality, notwithstanding the fact that both British Somaliland and the Colony of Aden were no longer British possessions.

Aden and British nationality

Aden (the town/port) was acquired by the Crown in 1839 and became part of the Crown’s dominions from that point. Initially, it was administered from British India (as part of the Bombay Presidency) as the Aden Settlement.  On 1 April 1937 it became a newly constituted Crown Colony.

On 1 January 1949, the Aden Colony (comprising Aden, Perim Island and the Kuria Muria Islands) came within the United Kingdom and Colonies for the purposes of British nationality law under the British Nationality Act 1948. Minor exceptions aside, by virtue of birth in the Colony of Aden, person was a Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies (‘CUKC’) by virtue of birth within the United Kingdom and Colonies, see the British Nationality Act 1948 section 4. Further, a person born outside the UK and Colonies, born legitimate, and born to a CUKC father himself born in colonial Aden, became a CUKC by descent, see the British Nationality Act 1948 section 5. Thus, the children of Somali men born in colonial Aden, became CUKCs at birth though born long after Aden ceased to be a British colony.

On 18 January 1963 the Colony of Aden (not including Perim Island and the Kuria Muria Islands) joined the Federation of South Arabia as a Member State, while still remaining a Crown Colony. The Federation was not independent and its territories remained under British control.

The Independence of Aden

 On 30 November 1967, following a movement for independence by the National Liberation Front (‘NLF’), the People’s Republic of South Yemen was declared over a territory including the Colony of Aden.

Provision was also made for the independence of South Yemen in United Kingdom law. In the Aden, Perim and Kuria Muria Islands Act 1967 (‘the 1967 Act’), section 1(1) provides that on the ‘appointed day’ in relation to a territory to which the section applies, the territory shall cease to form part of the Her Majesty’s dominions. In other words it was to become an independent state.

By the Aden, Perim and Kuria Muria Islands Act 1967 (Appointed Day) Order 1967 SI 1967/1761 the ‘appointed day’ in relation to Aden is 30 November 1967. On that day (in UK law) Aden became independent. However, despite Aden’s independence as part of the new state of South Yemen, there were no immediate consequences as regards acquisition or loss of British nationality as a CUKC.

Loss of British nationality as a result of Aden’s independence

 Provision for the termination of CUKC status (i.e. loss of British nationality) for those connected to the newly independent state of South Yemen was made by paragraph 1(1) of the Schedule to the 1967 Act. Pursuant to an order of the Secretary of State, any person: on a ‘specified date’; in consequence of his connection with a territory designated by the order; who possesses a nationality or citizenship specified by the order; whether that nationality or citizenship was  acquired before or on that date; who was a CUKC immediately before that date; ceased to a CUKC on that date.

By the British Nationality (People’s Republic of Southern Yemen) Order 1968 (SI 1968/1310) (‘the 1968 Order’): the specified date is 14 August 1968; the designated territory is the People’s Republic of Southern Yemen and the specified nationality is Southern Yemeni nationality.

In other words where a CUKC by virtue of birth in the Colony of Aden acquired Southern Yemeni nationality on or before 14 August 1968, then as a matter of United Kingdom law, that person automatically lost CUKC status (British nationality) on that day.

Who gained South Yemeni nationality on or before 14 August 1968?

Automatic acquisition of Southern Yemeni nationality is governed by the People’s Republic of Southern Yemen ‘South Yemen’ Law of Nationality 1968 (No 4) (in force 4 August 1968). This is foreign law. Chapter 2, article 2 provides:

The following shall be considered Southern Yemeni by birth:

  • Any person born of a Southern Yemeni father in or outside the Republic before or after the appointed date.
  • Any Arab born in the Republic provided that one or both of his parents has resided in the Republic for at least five years.
  • Any person born in the Republic before or after the appointed date both of whose parents are from Northern Yemen.
  • Any person born in the Republic of a Southern Yemeni mother and of a father of unknown nationality whose relationship to his father is not legally proved.
  • Any person born in the Republic of two unknown parents so long as the contrary is not proved.
  • Any person proved to have emigrated while being Southern Yemeni. This is applicable to his children born abroad. If they acquire another nationality they must give it up if they wish to continue to enjoy or to keep their Southern Yemeni nationality.

Further, material definitions are found in article 1:

  • ‘Southern Yemeni’: a person having southern Yemeni nationality by birth,

registration, naturalization or otherwise.

  • ‘Republic’: the People’s Republic of Southern Yemen.
  • ‘Arab’: any person belonging to the Arab nation and holding the nationality of any Arab State.
  • ‘The appointed date’: Independence day, 30th November 1967.

 Somali’s are not Arabs or part of the Arab nation; therefore, they could not take advantage of the provision in South Yemeni law for birth in the Republic to Arab parents. The definition of Arab would need to have been widened to include them. But there is no supplementary definition of ‘Arab’ found in other South Yemeni legislation, to supplement that found in article 1 of ‘South Yemen’ Law of Nationality 1968 (No 4).

 Further, Somalia was not an ‘Arab state’ on 4 August 1968 (when ‘South Yemen’ Law of Nationality 1968 (No 4) came into force), or on 14 August 1968 (the ‘specified date’ for UK law).

In the result, persons of Somali heritage, born in the Colony of Aden, did not pick up the nationality of South Yemen under the provisions made for acquisition of nationality on independence.

On the termination of British rule in the Colony of Aden and the establishment of the independent state of South Yemen, persons of Somali heritage did not lose their CUKC status (British nationality). Nor did they do so on the ‘specified date’ of 14 August 1968 thereafter.

They retained their CUKC status (British nationality) as they had not acquired Southern Yemeni nationality on or before the specified date (14 August 1968).

From Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies to British Overseas citizens

On 1 January 1983 the British Nationality Act 1948 was replaced by the British Nationality Act 1981 (‘the 1981 Act’). Citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies ended and three new forms of British nationality replaced it: British citizenship, British Dependent Territories Citizenship, and British Overseas citizenship.  Immediately before 1 January 1983, most persons of Somali heritage born in Aden were CUKCs.  On commencement of the 1981 Act, certain minor exceptions aside, they did not become British citizens (or British Dependent Territories citizens (‘BDTCs’). They did not become British citizens as they did not possess the right of abode in the UK under the Immigration Act 1971, section 2 as in force immediately prior to 1 January1983), see section 11(1) of the 1981 Act. Nor did they become BDTCs as they lacked a similar connection to a remaining British Dependent territory, see the 1981 Act, section 23(1). Instead they were re-classified as British Overseas citizens under section 26 of the 1981 Act.

Absent loss of BOC status by renunciation or deprivation, Somali BOCs from Aden have remained BOCs since that time. In the result there are many Somali people alive today who are BOCs by virtue of birth in colonial Aden, or by virtue birth to men themselves born in colonial Aden.

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