The term ‘illegal residents’ has always been problematic and debated by the international community. When Kuwait decided to change referring to the Bedoon from ‘stateless’ to ‘illegal residents’, the attempt to deprive them off their rights and documents was clearly expected. Such a label is the authorities way to justify denying documentation for Bedoon and avoid human rights organizations’ pressure by making the issue a matter of legal procedures.
Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) has recently reported that Kuwait defended the label of “illegal residents” to describe those who are not citizens and do not have a valid residency permit to reside in the contry, at the United Nations. The Kuwaiti law of foreigners stay No. 17 of 1959 does not give foreigners the right of permanent stay in Kuwait without a valid visa and passport, Eman Abdullatif Al-Nasser, head of the technical office at the central committee for addressing the status of illegal residents in Kuwait, said while presenting Kuwait’s periodical report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ERD).
She added this label was given to those who enter the country by illegal means or those who fail to renew their visas because they are hiding their passports or official documents. Al-Nasser explained that those people came to Kuwait for work, but after witnessing the advantages given by the state to citizens, concealed their passports and claimed to be indigenous people in order to gain the Kuwaiti nationality. She pointed out that the number of illegal residents before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 amounted to 220,000, but this figure dropped to 117, 000 in 1992 as thousands returned voluntarily to their original countries. Al-Nasser did not point out the fact that those who left Kuwait to escape Iraqi occupation were not allowed back and had to seek Asylum in the west or resided in neighboring countries facing difficult life conditions.
Al-Nasser also stated that these people are of tribal Bedouin decent (known for their constant travel across Gulf states) and that they were excluded from naturalization during the creation of the State of Kuwait. Since the demarcation of Kuwaiti borders, urban and tribal areas that surrounded the wall of Kuwait City (at the time) were included, and Bedouin tribesmen, found in these regions, were all granted citizenship as were sea-farers within these walls. This accusation by Al-Nasser reflects the typical government propaganda, constantly repeated by officials and media, to feed a stereotype of Bedoon as ‘new comers.’ This also reflects a discriminatory definition of citizen-hood as it excludes many of Kuwaitis off the society and imposes a one-class conception of who a Kuwaiti is.
Al-Nasser said recent official statistics put the number of illegal residents in Kuwait at 105,000 people. The State of Kuwait has spared no effort to address this problem, she stressed, as two taskforces were formed to tackle this issue in 1986 and 1993. In 1996, the government also formed the executive committee for illegal residents and assigned the Supreme Council for Planning to thoroughly study the issue and set a strategic and clear roadmap to tackle it. Al-Nasser pointed out that the proposed roadmap stipulates sorting out illegal residents into several groups and handling each separately. She, however, underlined that Kuwait has taken it upon itself to provide these people with free healthcare and education in addition to all other humanitarian needs.
Al-Nasser did not confess that Kuwait has been making promises for decades to solve statelessness but never did so; the central committee is headed by a discriminatory former MP, Saleh Al-Fidala, who has made different statements against the Bedoon and obviously has no intentions to better their conditions. Her statement was a clear repetition of Kuwaiti propaganda against Bedoon. Many of the Bedoon have documents proving their residency in Kuwait for more than five decades and fulfill the legal requirements to obtain citizenship. Kuwait made Promises too many promises during 2011 to cool down Bedoon protests; none of them were fulfilled, and instead, detained activists are still in jail and propaganda is being played both locally and internationally.