Bedoons in predicament

While discussion on the bedoon’s civil rights draft law in the National Assembly was postponed yesterday due to lack of quorum (for the second time in a row) nearly 100,000 bedoons (stateless persons) continue to fight a ‘paper war’ in a bid to reflect their physical existence on legal dossiers. Some bedoons think that the government and the National Assembly have been deferring this issue for decades now, and that this ‘intentional’ policy has pushed some toward facing perpetual hardship.

While many bedoons continue to face the ‘regular’ difficulties that accompany statelessness, others face a unique situation – they are neither considered to be stateless nor citizens of any country in the world!

The problems of this segment of people begin with being stateless or not belonging to any country. Khalifa Al-Utaibi, Spokesman of the Gathering of Kuwaiti Bedoons, said the Kuwaiti government had founded the Executive Committee for Illegal Residents (ECIR) to naturalize the stateless. This was done so that the government could later claim that they are not stateless but ‘illegal residents’ who conceal their true nationality.

We have to seek the committee’s approval to do any paper work,” Al-Utaibi said. “And when we go there, they give us an approval letter stating the citizenship they have conferred on us. In order to receive the approval, you have to sign an pledge stating that you are a holder of a particular nationality. Otherwise they will not allow it,” he said.

Al-Utaibi adds that he had once approached the ECIR to seek approval. He was told that he was of a Saudi origin. “I told them okay, I agree. I’ll be proud to admit that I am Saudi. Where is my Saudi passport? Can you please give it to me so I can at least obtain a birth certificate for my daughter? They told me “that’s your job to find out, not ours.” These are the kind of procedures they impose on us,” he laments.

According to Al-Utaibi, Kuwaiti government has been imposing pressure on the stateless people since 1986. “We face such restrictions every day,” Al-Utaibi said. “We have to struggle to register marriages, register the birth of a child, issue a death certificate. Any kind of interaction where paperwork is involved is a painful experience for us,” he explains.

Al-Utaibi took the point further arguing that the only way bedoons can contract marriages is through the help of court orders. The groom files a suit claiming to have had illegal relations with the bride. The judge then issues an order legalizing their marriage contract.

Supporters of these measures argue that they are rewarding. A large number of bedoons have ‘adjusted’ to their situations and ‘recovered’ their original passports. The consequences of these restrictions are showing up in far more complicated, inhumane situations.

As one of the aftereffects of this policy, a group of people have now been rendered non-bedoon. They are not citizens of any other country in the world. There are no definitions to describe them; they are simply ‘nameless.’ They are widely referred to as ‘stateless of stateless’ or bedoon of bedoon and face dead ends. In addition, they face the misfortune of having to ‘come up’ with a passport in order to survive.

Abu Abdlallah, a father of six children in his forties, is a former bedoon. Owing to a number of complications, including difficulties related to issuing birth certificates for his two youngest daughters, he had to buy a Syrian passport from a company that had placed an advertisement in local newspapers in 2001. He said that he paid KD 6,000 for the passport, which he then submitted to the ECIR. After doing so, he was able to obtain residence permits for himself and family members. He also obtained other forms of identification and a driving license.

The problem began when my passport expired in 2007,” he said. “I went to the Syrian embassy to renew it and they said that they need to consult the Syrian ministry of interior before issuing a new passport to me. After some time, embassy officials told me that the Syrian government does not have any record of our details, and that it does not consider us to be citizens of Syria at all. They took our passports and gave me a paper stating that we are not Syrian citizens,” he added.

Abu Abdallah’ s life has since, turned tragic. He is unable to obtain a residence permit because he doesn’t have a passport. He can’t also go back into living like a stateless individual. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I went back to the ECIR so that I could receive an identification card. They told me that they can’t process any documents any more. I was asked to go to the Ministry of Interior. I went there with a group of people who faced similar circumstances. They could offer no assistance and we were told that our situation needs be resolved politically.

He explained that due to their situation, his family or he cannot receive medical care at government hospitals. His sons don’t possess any kind of identity card and are vulnerable to police arrests any time. He added that his situation has also inflicted psychological damage on his children. “My 19-year-old daughter has been engaged for almost a year now. She can’t get married because she doesn’t have any legal documents whatsoever.

Adel is another individual who has been trapped in a similar situation. Apparently, the secretary of the ECIR informed him that his file had been ‘closed’ and that he should submit his ‘original passport’ in order to be able to process any paper work related to the government. “I searched for the cheapest passport available,” he said. “The Somali passport could be bought for KD 150 then,” he added. He explained that it wasn’t too difficult to buy one. “The advertisements placed by passport selling agencie
s were common in many newspapers back then. Several notices were placed inside the ECIR premises itself,” he claimed.

Adel said that after he submitted the Somali passport to the ECIR, before a civil ID with a valid Kuwaiti residency as a Somali citizen was issued to him, a government official in Somalia declared that the passports issued in Kuwait were illegal. The Somali government had taken measures to change passports to prevent forgery. “It was then that I stopped. But now I’m registered with the ECIR as a Somali citizen. It’s not only me, all my brothers and sister, and their sons and daughters face the same situation,” he said. He argued that the ploy was part of the of the ECIR’s strategy to trap bedoons. This is because as soon as anyone buys a passport the nationality is applied on all the relatives in government records.

Abu Ghazi, another bedoon, says that had he known he would have had to face such a situation, he would’ve left Kuwait a long time ago. “Why didn’t they tell us that they don’t want us, back in the ’60s? We would’ve managed to fit into another country in the region while it was possible. Why did they wait for forty years to tell us that they don’t want us?” he questioned.

© Kuwait Times 2010

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