Bidoon literally means “without” in Arabic and refers to a group of Bedouin, formerly nomadic Arabs, who are perceived as socially and culturally inferior to the dominant “merchant” tribes of the Gulf States. Around 100,000 Bidoons reside in Kuwait, and many also live in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
As competition for unskilled jobs has increased over the past few decades, the Kuwaiti government began a campaign to strip Bidoons of their rights. Many worked on oil rigs but have since lost many of their jobs to South Asian migrant workers.
Most are legally unable to attain jobs, own property or register a car.
As opposed to some other countries such as Bangladesh (where statelessness is also a problem), in Kuwait there are very limited legal means to change nationality and registration. The state simply does not entertain complaints about legal status.
Ashraf (whose real name we don’t use) is a Kuwaiti Bidoon who was born in Kuwait, just like his father and grandfather. Yet, he has neither marriage contract, access to formal employment, nor birth certificate for his child.
He resides in a slum in al-Jahra, 35 kilometers outside of Kuwait City. Historically, there was a wall around the main urban area of Kuwait City to keep out lower status social groups.
Ashraf talks with Worldfocus about how he traveled to the U.K. to seek better employment opportunities but was subsequently deported.
Worldfocus: How does statelessness affect you?
Ashraf: I don’t have any rights in Kuwait. First, I don’t have a job. If I want to look for a new job, employers say, “No, you can’t work because your ID card is just for six months.” I must go renew it every six months.
I don’t have a marriage certificate. My son hasn’t a birth certificate, ID card or any other proof of his existence. Also, medicine for Bidoons is not free. How can I get money for it when we are not allowed jobs?
Worldfocus: How has your situation gotten worse over the past decade — in terms of employment and housing?
Ashraf: I am now almost 28-years-old, and I feel miserable. I worked in co-operative society, and they did not give me my salary for three months. After one year, they fired me from the job and did not give me my final paycheck.
My salary was 150 Kuwaiti dinars ($524), and my flat rent is 100 dinars ($349). This means just 50 dinars ($175) for my wife, son and myself for many months.
I can’t make any legal case because the employer has Kuwaiti nationality, and I am stateless.
Worldfocus: Do you fault the Kuwaiti government agencies for your statelessness problem?
Ashraf: The government agencies are the first reason for the problem of stateless people. And the second reason is some of the members of the Kuwaiti parliament. Third, some Muslim clergy are at fault.
At the Executive Committee of the Illegal Residents, they wanted to put me down for Iraqi nationality on my marriage certificate. I took it up with the research and investigation office. Then I asked why they had put down Iraqi nationality. And I requested that they give me proof — because I wanted to go to the Iraqi embassy to get an Iraqi passport.
The clerk there said that it was up to me if I wanted to take it. Then I said to him that I wanted Israeli nationality because they’re better than Kuwait, and they grant all rights to Israeli people. He then told me to get out of there.
Worldfocus: What are you currently doing to resolve your statelessness situation? Have you sought the help of NGOs, media, or friends?
Ashraf: It is very hard to resolve this problem from Kuwait. Maybe it’s easier from America, the U.K., France or another foreign country to solve the stateless problem. I was in the U.K. to claim asylum, but they refused me because they said, “You have all your rights in Kuwait.” I asked them, “If I have all my rights, then why did I come to the U.K.?”
As for the Kuwaiti media, they’re just lies for us. And Kuwaiti NGOs – I’ve never tried working with them.
I want people to stand with us opposite the Kuwaiti Embassy in the U.K. to stop the injustice. Let’s solve this problem which has lasted for more than forty years.