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The Bidoon Tribe of Kuwait

The situation of the Bidoon tribe in Kuwait is a complex and sensitive issue. The Bidoon, which translates to "stateless" in Arabic, are a group of people who do not have recognized citizenship in Kuwait or any other country. This predicament places them in a vulnerable position, as they lack access to essential rights and services, including healthcare, education, and employment opportunities.

Kuwait is a small but significant country in the Middle East and throughout early history was a trading hub for merchants.  It was once under Ottoman Rule but retained its autonomy largely, however in the 19th Century, Kuwait sought British protection against the ambitions of the neighbouring empires, including the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Kuwait later gained full independence in 1961 from the British. 

When this happened, one third of the population were given nationality on the basis that they were ‘founding fathers’ while another third were naturalized as citizens. The last third were classified as ‘Bidoon jinsiya’ which translates from Arabic as ‘without nationality’. This group from the tribal, rural areas of the country did not register due to many factors such as unawarenesses of this law’s importance and a failure to provide documentation. This led to the issues their descendants face years later as stateless people. 

This was not a concern at first as they were not treated much different from ordinary citizens and could access education, healthcare and employment but the distinguishing factor at this time was the right to vote. 

This swiftly changed in 1986 when the government declared them “illegal residents” and their rights were withdrawn. The Gulf War in 1991 was the next significant historical event that happened where Kuwait was invaded by Iraq. The war ended with Kuwait being liberated from Iraqi occupation. 

As the Bidoon made up the majority of the Kuwaiti army, they were blamed for the advancement of Iraqi forces and many soldiers were tried in court for collaboration with Iraqi forces leading to Bidoon refugees unable to return to their home and 10,000 reportedly being deported. Their population dropped from 250,000 to 100,000. This brought on a new wave of trials such as denial to identification documents and harassment to reveal their ‘true nationality’. 

Those born and raised in this tribe, are born with no birth certificate or documents and will continue to live life like that; unwanted, stateless and without access to healthcare, education and work opportunities. 

Many Bidoon individuals find themselves in this state of limbo due to factors beyond their control.

Efforts have been made by the Qatari government to address this issue, and in 2021, Qatar introduced a law aimed at granting permanent residency to some Bidoon residents. This was seen as a significant step towards resolving their statelessness. However, there is still work to be done to ensure that all Bidoon individuals receive the necessary legal recognition and access to the rights they deserve.

The Bidoon issue in Qatar serves as a reminder of the importance of addressing statelessness on a global scale and underlines the need for comprehensive solutions to ensure that every individual enjoys the fundamental rights and opportunities they deserve.

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