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In early March, the government of Kuwait was taking some positive steps. All stateless bidoun who had been arrested during and after December 2011/January 2012 gatherings were released on bond, while members of parliament were interrogating the prime minister over long-time ill treatment of the bidoun community. It also seemed that the government would finally provide nationality documents to 34,000 bidoun and begin adjudicating at least 80,000 other applications before the parliament’s Bidoun Committee.
Unfortunately, the government has backtracked on both issues in ways that should concern the international community.
Reportedly, Kuwait is launching a new “regularization program” for the country’s two million migrants – and the government apparently intends to lump the 105,000 bidoun into this group. At first glance this seems absurd, since in order to be regularized applicants will have to present a passport – and by definition, the bidoun, as stateless people, do not have passports.
So why bother? One reason, perhaps, is that over the years a small number of bidoun have acquired fake passports (from such exotic and improbable countries as Bolivia and Sierra Leone) that “prove” they are foreign nationals. They have done this because as bidoun they cannot access birth certificates, health care, education, or other human rights – but perversely, they can as foreigners. These fake passports do not allow the bidoun to access any benefits in the claimed country of nationality, but they do allow the government to technically decrease the number of bidoun in Kuwait.
Beyond the machinations and legal loopholes, it’s indisputable that every one of the 105,000 bidoun has the right to nationality. To be in compliance with this right, the Kuwaiti government needs to take just two steps: (1) provide 34,000 known Kuwaiti nationals with documentation proving their status, and (2) fairly and transparently adjudicate the remaining nationality applications. Decisions that go against bidoun applicants should be subject to judicial review. Furthermore – with the possible exception of proven collaborators with the Iraqi invasion in 1991 – no bidoun should be denied nationality because of a “security block,” an amorphous sanction that can be applied without due process.
Taking these steps would be neither financially difficult nor politically impossible. To the contrary, many members of parliament have recently spoken in favor of taking these steps and recognizing bidoun rights.
Meanwhile, the government is once again arresting and detaining individuals alleged to have organized bidoun gatherings. If those individuals cannot be found, the government will arrest their relatives or confiscate their identity documents to compel that individual to turn himself in. So far, six people have been arrested on criminal charges and four on nationality security grounds. In one case, a man’s three brothers were arrested until he gave himself up; in another, a man was compelled to surrender after police seized his father’s ID card.
Realizing that their gatherings will likely lead to more violence and detentions, the bidoun have recently found another way to peacefully and safely stand up for their rights: Today, April 4, individuals throughout the country will light four candles in their homes and community centers.
This simple gesture, devoid of any public activity, must be respected and protected by Kuwait’s police and military. It would be unacceptable for either group to arrest or otherwise harass anyone simply for lighting a few candles in their home. Instead, the Kuwaiti government should acknowledge the quiet dignity of these actions and take positive steps to finally confer nationality on the bidoun.April 04, 2012 | Tagged as: Kuwait, Middle East, Statelessness