The Arabic word “bidoon,” meaning “without” and short for “bidoon jinsiya” (without citizenship), is used to denote longtime residents of Kuwait who are stateless and, according to government figures, presently number about 93,000. Lack of legal status impacts all areas of life for bidoon: their identity, family life, mental and physical health, residence, education, livelihood, political participation and freedom of movement.
Bidoon in Kuwait, like stateless people in other parts of the world, often find themselves caught in a costly cycle of buying their way out of situations for which they bear no responsibility. When dealing with government civil administration offices and providers of services, exchanging money or other favors can determine if or when they may be able to acquire citizenship or legal residency. People who lack basic citizenship rights are forced to make compromises, whether it’s in the form of using another person’s name to buy a home or maintain a business, or purchasing a passport with an unlikely national affiliation.
In fact, there is a brisk business in counterfeit passports in Kuwait, from countries like Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia and the Dominican Republic. With a foreign passport, stateless bidoon can obtain a five-year residency permit and enjoy the privileges that Kuwait grants its guest workers, including free education and health care.In
late April, Refugees International returned to Kuwait to continue our efforts on behalf of Kuwaiti bidoon. We were alarmed to learn some 5,000 stateless bidoon who have been forced to go undercover after using false documents in order to access to basic public services.
RI met a house-bound family in the Jahra neighborhood who told the story behind their current situation and described the plight they now face. Like many of the bidoon, the father had served in the Kuwaiti army. As the years passed and their citizenship still was not recognized, a member of the family purchased a fraudulent passport. When the document expired and the family tried to re-establish their former status as stateless residents, they could not do so. Out of fear of getting caught for the years they lived with fake identification, the family has gone ‘underground” and no one leaves their home.
Friends and relatives help with errands. “We have a car, but no license,” one family member said. “If we get caught, we’ll be put in jail.” Another acknowledged that without income from employment, their financial situation is constrained and said that “funds for healthcare comes from a religious charity.”
While clearly challenged with the tasks of everyday life, the bigger issue is how to solve the problem once and for all. “We tried to go to a lawyer, but we were told we can’t take our case to court,” said one man. “We haven’t tried to call the UN, but if we get caught it would be a problem and we can’t visit the office– maybe they are Kuwaiti police.”
The children of the family are not documented and do not attend school. And they are part of a growing group facing similar circumstances. One of the young women explained tearfully that she and her finance had not been able to marry because of the new situation. “We are less than bidoon now,” the grandmother said. “We’re not even human,” one of her daughters added.
What we witnessed in Kuwait requires a global effort to increase transparency and curtail corruption so that families aren’t forced to seek their own solutions to statelessness—and very often face the tragic consequences.
May 28, 2010
| Tagged as: Kuwait, Middle East, Statelessness