A story about a little boy and the bureaucracy machine

As many of you already know, Sheikh Oskar bin David al Winter a.k.a Oskar Winter was born in Dubai on the 8th of November 2016. His birth at Al Zahra Hospital by the 16 lane Sheikh Zayed Road was a truly international event: a Lithuanian doctor, Syrian anesthesiologist, Filipina and Sri Lankan midwives all worked in concert while Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel played on repeat in the background for hours. Everything went smoothly and the hospital was lovely and even though we did not opt for one of their VIP rooms we still had a view to the iconic Burj al Arab hotel.

After 2 days at the hospital it was time to discharge us and head home. This is when the avalanche of paperwork sprouted. A nurse came into our room with a handful of documents to sign: discharge papers for me and Oskar, insurance papers, hospital bill, prescriptions and the all important notification of birth. The hospital did try and charge us for 4000 Dirham (about 1000 Euro) worth of bills, but after a few calls to insurance and some time spent at the hospital’s cashier’s office, David managed to bring that down to 300 Dirhams (about 80 Euro). That was our first and easiest hurdle.

The next step was to get Oskar a birth certificate. This can only be obtained by the father of the child, who must be married to the mother of the child. In fact, being pregnant and unmarried in the UAE is illegal and no insurance will cover childbirth for you if you are not married. Women who are single and fall pregnant normally leave to make their lives easier or get deported. So David went the next day to a hospital in Dubai, which has the Department of Preventive Medicine in it, who issue a birth certificate in Arabic upon presenting them with all the paperwork from the hospital along with our passports and visas. The application form for birth certificate is only available in Arabic and non-Arabic speakers must employ the help of a typing office to do it for them. Once issued, the birth certificate was translated into English for a small fee. In order to use the birth certificate in other countries it needed to be attested by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So, tired from a day of queueing and paperwork, David went to the ministry the next day to do this. Dubai is still very hot in November, so he went wearing his normal semi-smart shorts and t-shirt. He was refused entrance by the security guard at the gate. The reason? Shorts are not allowed into the ministry premises. Luckily, the ministry is in the old part of Dubai, which has many Indian tailors. David went to the closest one, who greeted him with a smile and said: “From the ministry?”, already knowing that he was after some long trousers – the essential item to get your son’s birth certificate attested. We finally got the necessary stamps from Dubai and now it was my turn to do what is needed to get Oskar registered in the Estonian people’s registry.

The translation of the birth certificate had to be legalised by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The lack of an Estonian embassy in the UAE meant parting with a lot of money at the DHL counter. We sent the birth certificate to Tallinn with all the necessary forms, payment and paperwork only to have it returned to say that they cannot legalise the translation, before the UAE embassy in Sweden also attests that it is correct. This is because the UAE has not joined any international conventions and doesn’t have an agreement with the Estonian government to be able to do this. Thankfully we wrote my mum’s address in Estonia as the return address, so she could quickly send it to Stockholm. The UAE embassy there required a return envelope, but could not give any information as to how many stamps to put on the envelope. So we did not put enough and that meant the birth certificate was sent from Sweden to Estonia via regular, non-registered post. We had a week of nervous waiting, but it finally got there. Estonian MFA finally legalised it, sent it back to my mum and she went and registered Oskar as Estonian citizen. We had now done everything necessary to apply for Estonian passport. This was a relatively easy process. The hardest part was taking Oskar’s passport photo with him facing forward and eyes open. This is what we got: passipilt

By the time we got the passport application sent, it was nearly Christmas and we had lost all hope of getting back to Estonia for Christmas, but we were sure we would make it by New Year’s Eve. This did not happen. It was partly my own fault. The payment for the passport I made to the government was returned to my account due to wrong reference number. Nobody notified me of this and I did not check until after calling them every day for a week to check the progress one of the officials thought of checking the payment. So I paid again, but by this time people were already on holiday and the service had slowed down. However, I must give huge credit to all the ladies at the Immigration Office in Estonia, who patiently answered my calls, called my mum for updates and were generally rooting for little Oskar to get home asap. New Year’s Eve came and went and the passport arrived during the first week of 2017.

We planned to fly back on the 9th January, but of course tickets had sold out by the time we were ready to book them. And there was another business to take care of: we had to obtain an exit pass for Oskar. You see, because he had no entry stamp in his passport, we was not able to leave the UAE even though he has a birth certificate to prove he was born there. So, another day taken off work to oil the bureaucracy machine, we went to the UAE MInistry of Interior to get this exit pass. We first needed an application in Arabic for this exit pass. So we took our place in the queue in one of the many grotty typing offices outside the Ministry (David had attempted to get this done at an immigration office at the airport the day before, but was told they needed me to be there too).

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One of the many typing office. David’s body language tells me he is slowly losing his patience. 

Application in Arabic at hand, we now headed inside the immigration office in the ministry compound. We entered a room filled mainly with men, all standing in a line to get a number for another line. This is where being a woman in Dubai came in handy. I was allowed to jump the queue and got us a number for the other queue to actually see someone who can give us this document. We saw we had a long wait, so I went to find what they called ‘female area’ to feed Oskar. Turned out the female area was a small women’s toilet with a baby changing room so small that the door did not even close without removing the chair in the room. So I took a seat in the little broom cupboard and was soon joined by another nursing lady, who took a seat just outside the door on a small metal chair. The conditions in a place that gets many visitors with children were appalling. I wish Dubai would pay more attention to these issues and less on their wannabe glamorous status. Anyway, after 20 minutes or so I went to join David, who was still waiting in the line. After another 40 minutes or so, David approached one the officials, who seemed to think he was important, and told him that we have a sick baby (we didn’t really) and had been waiting for hours. The office had about 12 counters and only 3 were open. The others had people sitting there on their phones, not doing any work at all. The important man led us to one of these ‘closed’ counters and we were helped by a lovely lady, who gave Oskar and exit pass. Luckily we checked it straight away and found she had gotten his nationality wrong and called him British. So we went and corrected the mistake with the usual conversation about what and where is this Estonia.img_20170110_125759

I forgot to mention that because we were supposed to leave on the 30th December, our hotel apartment, where we had lived for the past 18 months, had booked our flat for the next visitors and we were to become homeless. Luckily we found a hotel room nearby and lived in a small room with all our belongings for 2 weeks. Living in a hotel may sound glamorous, but it was pretty tough fitting in there, not having a kitchen and just not being able to leave the country because of stupid paperwork.

Finally, on the 11th of January we went to the airport with our 5 suitcases and baby seats. Oskar had two big accidents in his pants before we managed to check in. But from there on everything went smoothly and we were soon at the Finnair departure gate hearing familiar sounds. img_20170111_140941

So with very happy hearts we said goodbye to this:

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And hello to this: img_8980As many of you may know, Estonia is very good for having children in terms of financial support. All Estonian parents living here permanently are entitled to what we call a mother’s salary for 18 months, which is 100% of your salary in the last year.

I also applied for this while still in Dubai, but was denied it, because I was still in Dubai. Made sense. So I applied again last week and have been waiting for the response. So this morning I got a visit from a social worker, who was here to check that I really do live here and not in Dubai. Now that they have seen me with their own eyes they were happy to give me the mother’s salary. Apparently a lot of Russian people come to give birth here, buy cheap property and register to live there, which would give them entitlement for some of these financial perks. But in actual fact they live in Russia. So these checks must be performed. I think my case has brought lots of excitement to all kinds of offices here in Võru that I have dealt with.

And now all is well, Oskar is legally Estonian. We are enjoying the cold and snow after 18 months of heat and sand. I now consider myself an expert in all matters pertaining immigration. Also forgot to mention that some boxes of things I sent back from Dubai were stuck in Estonian customs for a couple of weeks. Again I had to prove that these are my personal items and not for sale. Oh the joys!img_20170107_151602

Tšau!

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