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Cast Aside in Kuwait - Nationality and human rights

Cast Aside in Kuwait | Human Rights Watch
International law considers nationality a fundamental human right, as it serves as the gateway to other human rights. Kuwait, like other countries that have signed international human rights conventions, is obliged to avoid creating statelessness through restrictive or discriminatory citizenship laws and to consider whether a person would otherwise be stateless when evaluating citizenship claims.

In May, Kuwait became a member of the UN Human Rights Council, stepping in when it looked like Syria might otherwise gain a seat. As a member, Kuwait should uphold the highest standard of human rights in its own country. Yet current attempts to gloss over the Bidun's situation by pointing to grants and handouts don't change the underlying fact that the government has failed to provide timely and transparent review of their claims to citizenship. If the Bidun need help, it is because the government has forced them into a situation in which they can't help themselves.

Bidun - from the Arabic phrase "bidun jinsiyya," without citizenship - are people, most of them from nomadic origins, who lived in Kuwait for years but didn't register for citizenship before 1960, when the country's major citizenship registration drive ended.
Some were illiterate and nomadic and couldn't provide needed documentation, while others simply did not hear about the citizenship drive or understand the stakes. And the stakes only became clearer later when surging oil wealth created a huge gap between them and citizens, who got state largesse. The Kuwaiti government began calling the Bidun "illegal residents" in the mid-80s after treating them as potential citizens and granting them the same access to social services during the two preceding decades. Their families have been paying the price ever since.

"[Kuwaiti citizenship is like] some sort of club," said Talal, a young Bidun man. "Whoever didn't get in at the right time ... that's all there is to it."

But many Kuwaitis instead consider nationality a privilege, asserting that the Bidun became stateless through their own choices - a mythology that plagues stateless populations around the globe. Kuwaiti citizens told me that the Bidun are nationals of other countries who tore up their passports to take advantage of Kuwaitis' many social benefits, including free education at all levels, virtually guaranteed employment and housing grants.

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