The Bidoon : a community without identity

10/04/2015
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The Bidoon's name is written in pencil, it can be easily erased.

-Youssef Al-Kharafi- a former deputy Minister of Interior


 

The Bidoon designates an Arabic word meaning “without”. True to its literal meaning the “Bidoun/بدون” refers to an ethnic group residing in Kuwait without nationality. It is estimated that the Bidoon count from 100,000 to 300,000 persons in Kuwait. During the 1980s, they formed 80 to 90 per cent of the Kuwaiti army. Currently, the rate has fallen to 40 per cent. The fact of not recognizing them as citizens has caused them major problems: they cannot have an ID card, birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports or any other form of documentation.

Fruitlessly, they’ve been striving and claiming recognition for five decades. As outcasts, they lead a life of poverty ad misery at the margins of their country.

History

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The situation of the Bidoons has depended in the course of time on Kuwait's political agenda. Historically they have witnessed two phases: the before and after 1985:

The issue of the bidoon dates back to 1959. Kuwait was setting its post-independence system and trying to register its citizens. Due to unawareness of the importance of registration, many nomads did not register. It was “no big deal” since they shared the socio-economic privileges that Kuwait provided its citizens with. 

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Things remained stable up to the late 80s, when there were rising attempts to set aside the bidoons in a social and economic isolation along with their ,already, non-recognition as citizens.

The Bidoons were subject to a wave of doubt during the Iran-Iraq war and were indirectly suspected of siding with Iraq and threatening the safeguard of Kuwait. During that period, it was easy for residents of other neighboring countries to nullify their original nationalities and infiltrate within the Bidoon to demand the same rights the others do which paved the way for the Kuwaiti government to consider the overall community as “illegal immigrants” later on.

1985 was a pivotal year to the destiny of the Bidoons. The Emir Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah survived an assassination attempt. Not Surprisingly, later that year, The Kuwaiti government modified the status of Bidoons from “Legal” to “Illegal” citizens. The 1990 attack of Iraq on Kuwait only made it worse for the Bidoons who were subject to both the Iraqi attack and to the Kuwaiti accusations of treason.

Current situation

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Ever since, the Bidoons have been living an arbitrary life lacking the most basic rights and were subject to several violations of human rights.

Economically, they are at the bottom rank of the Kuwaiti society: they're a community of “have nots” living in a country that ranks the 10th richest country in the world. Bidoons who used to work in the public sector were rendered jobless, and they were denied the possibility to work in the private sector.

Legally, the Kuwaiti law does not allow cases having to do with citizenship or residency to be held in courts depriving the bidoons from pursuing their rights. Further, the “illegal immigrant” status is a path to citizenship by naturalization in many countries.Yet, Kuwait denied this option to the Bidoons eg;children of Bidoon fathers and Kuwaiti mothers are not eligible to citizenship.

The sole way to travel abroad for the Bidoon is by accepting never to return to Kuwait. More than half of the community are blocked from coming back to their country.

 

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The Human Rights Watch issued a report about the Bidoon community describing them as citizens without citizenship. The report explained how the community has been having “an apartheid-like existence in their own countries.”, and described the Kuwaiti policy in dealing with the Bidoon as “a denationalisation of native residents”. The Kuwaiti government was responsive to human rights' organizations' criticism and issued “the 11 bidoon rights” guaranteeing free education, rights to registration and employment. Besides, nearly 93.000 Bidoons were documented.

Still, the discriminatory policies are still on practice. Violations of human rights are still being documented: fees still need to be paid to get children into schools, Bidoon activists are still jailed, kidnapped. Students and workers are still being discriminated against.

Recently, the Kuwaiti government figured out a solution to the bidoon issue: to buy them foreign citizenships. The interior ministry saw in the UAE scenario a perfect way out and found no harm in reproducing it in Kuwait. To get rid of the situation, Kuwait planned to issue a deal to get the Bidoon economic citizenships in the Comoros and in return the Comoros would found an embassy in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti plan was rejected by the Bidoon and a series of protests that were faced with oppression ensued.

 Nidhal Chemkhi