Kuwait Voices: A Bidun Shares the Difficulty of Being Stateless

“This is my story. My grandfather came to Kuwait a long time ago. He raised sheep and would go wherever there was good grazing and water. My father was born here. In the early 1950s he went to work for the Kuwait Oil Company and completed a training program about five or six years later. Because he was working so hard and maybe because he was illiterate, he never met the committee that was working to register citizens. He was included in the 1965 census, though, which identifies him as Kuwaiti. My older brothers, who were born before 1965, were also included in the census.”

The oil company gave Hasan’s* father a house to live in, but the company owns it. When the older man got sick, the oil company covered the costs of his medical care. He retired in 1985 and was given his severance pay, as bidun are ineligible for pensions. From the late 1980s until the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, Hasan’s father continued to receive some support. “When Hussein invaded, three of my brothers fought with the resistance; two of my brothers and I went to Saudi Arabia.”

After that, though, the family’s fortunes deteriorated. The family was threatened with eviction from their home. The Minister of Petroleum intervened on their behalf, and ultimately, former employees were permitted to remain in their homes. About 100 families (3,000 people) were in the same situation. When there was a second threat from the government to remove them from their houses, the former Emir intervened on their behalf. “We are always afraid of losing our house.”

Hasan explains, “It was the big trading families who created this problem. It is not about racism. It is not about the urban/rural differences, or the difference between Sunni and Shia. It is all about money. It costs a lot to provide housing, and more than 60,000 Kuwaitis don't have houses.”

For the last two years there has been some improvement in the situation of bidun who once worked for the oil company. Former employees can receive free healthcare services, as well as their sons until the age of 26 and unmarried daughters of any age.

Hasan then talked about his own situation. “I have no job, I’m unmarried and in my mid-30s. I don't live like other people. Why? I have no future. I’m worried and anxious. I swear my father and I don't have any other nationality. My driving license says I am an illegal resident. In the evening I sit up in bed and wonder what I’ll do tomorrow. I think about looking for a job. But with what company would I be able to get one? At that point my thinking stops. Most of my friends are in the same predicament. If they are able to work under the table, they might make 175 KD (U$640), but if they pay 60 KD for transportation to their jobs, what’s the point?”

He explains, “My older brother helps me financially, but it is not right that he should support our parents and me, in addition to his own family. Rents have increased in recent years. A studio that used to cost KD 45 (US$ 164) is now KD 150 (US$ 547). Rent of KD 180 will get a 2 x 3 m2 room with a bath. I am afraid for my family. I worry about what will happen if my brothers lose their jobs. My brother, the one not in the army, makes KD 500 a year.”

In terms of documents, the situation has improved slightly. “Next month Kuwait will start re-issuing Article 17 passports, but you can’t get a passport unless you have ‘wasta’ [connections] and are going abroad for education or medical purposes. We can get death announcements, but no death certificate. I am not sure if a person can use an announcement to divide an inheritance,” Hasan wonders.

Hasan says that the government continues to defer any decision to resolve the plight of the bidun. Meanwhile, it gives bidun the minimum, such as driver licenses and passports to keep them quiet. “They are playing for time, hoping the bidun will get tired and go away. But go where? They can not travel unless they buy false passports, from countries like Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, and Eritrea. They cost between 1,000-5,000 KD depending on the country. If a person uses that passport, the country you are traveling to will not admit you and will send you back.”

Hasan concludes his story by telling RI, “This is my country, and I love it. I could never do anything against it. I would never join a demonstration. We are a religious family. We pray and fast. Our will keeps us going. The solution is to put pressure on the government. In the future, if nothing changes, I will go to the U.S. or Canada, but only if there is no solution here. The future is dark.”

*Interviewee's name has been changed.

Senior Advocate Maureen Lynch and Patrick Barbieri conducted a two-week assessment of the situation of bidun in Kuwait in July.