Kuwait; a country where (for the most part) citizens live their lives with minimal worries. Everything is pretty much provided to the people by the government; free health care, decent paying jobs, and many other forms of transfer payments. With all the benefits it provides, many see Kuwait as the poster child for the perfect country. About two weeks after the celebration of the country’s independence, a crowd of over a hundred men and women gathered in protest in an effort to gain citizenship. Many took to their Blackberries and iPhones to send or receive the latest joke about this protest and laughed hysterically at the effort these people were putting in to gain their own rights. Clearly, the’ve never walked in the stateless citizen’s shoes.
The United Nation’s international law states that every resident of a certain country must be in possession of a valid citizenship. It seems that Kuwait is one of the worst offenders of this law because, as of June 2011, over 120,000 residents – 5% of the population – have been confirmed to be stateless or “biduns” as they are referred to in Kuwait. These stateless people live their lives without a valid identity, which leads to their inability to apply for certain jobs, not being able to travel, lack of education and lack of decent housing, as they do not possess any valid certification of their identities. Thus, they technically do not exist. The closest thing these people get to a good paying job is selling glow sticks and pinwheels on the street. It is often argued that stateless people only represent a small percentage of the population, but it is still a huge problem that not many people really understand. Allow me to briefly explain:
Up until the mid-80s, with the exception of the right to vote, stateless citizens were granted the same benefits regular Kuwaiti citizens enjoyed, such as free medical care and loans for housing. However, everything went from good to bad in 1985, as the government issued regulations stripping stateless citizens of all the benefits they were provided. To make matters worse, the government prohibited any stateless citizens’ qualification for travel documents while also firing all employees, barring the military, who do not possess valid passports. Within the next five years, the discrimination against the stateless continued as the government banned them from all educational institutions, as well as refusing to grant them renewals for their driver’s licenses and registration for their vehicles. They also had to pay for their own healthcare (which remained free for Kuwaiti citizens) and to this day, with the exception of public education and health care, they continue to struggle to make ends meet, and are recognized as “aliens” by Kuwaitis.
So why are all these poor innocent civilians still not legal? Well, as popular belief dictates, nobody is stateless by accident. There have been countless rumors that most of the “biduns” are illegal immigrants from neighboring Arab countries who dispose of their original passports and flee to Kuwait in an effort to obtain the generous benefits provided to Kuwaiti citizens. We all know how privileged we are to be Kuwaitis. We get numerous benefits that some countries only dream of, so I honestly do not blame them for wanting to gain the citizenship and be granted such benefits. However, if this speculated story turns out to be true, then this will only give our parliament further trouble, as they simply cannot differentiate between genuine stateless aliens and frauds. Because of this, many stateless citizens who deserve to be recognized as genuine citizens will continue to struggle to put food on the table for their families.
Towards the end of the last millennium, people thought that this confusion would finally be resolved when the government initiated a program which offered “biduns” a chance to apply for a five-year citizenship grant in exchange for coming clean about their fraudulent identities. Up to 36,000 stateless residents who resided in the country from 1965 onwards were granted full citizenship in May of 2000, and a month later, the government shut down the “coming-clean program” it had initiated nine months prior, as not many were willing to come forward and confess.
Ever since 2000, with the exception of granting free public education for stateless children in 2004, there has been little progress towards achieving the goal of citizenship for these “biduns” – and judging by the mini protests that we witnessed earlier this year, this will only become a bigger problem as time goes by. The parliament keeps promising to resolve this issue on a yearly basis, but it seems like their promises are always made in vain. There is no doubt that the constant delay of the handling of this issue will eventually come back to haunt us in the near future.
Let’s look at the facts in a logical way: how is it that there is no record of these alleged “fake beduns” from their home countries? Why are countries not going to greater lengths to provide their governments with residents’ places of origin? Now, I’m no politician. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I admit, this situation cannot be resolved overnight. Nonetheless, it is an issue that demands immediate attention and action.