Kuwait's Stateless Population

Growing up, Mona Kareem was not a victim of childhood torment because of her nationality—but, rather, her absence of nationality. She is a member of Kuwait‘s stateless population. From an extremely young age, Kareem knew she did not quite belong. Her fellow students, and even her teachers in Kuwaiti’s free, public schools seemed to treat her more as an apparition than an individual.

One could imagine why Kareem accepted an academic scholarship in 2011 to study in the United States at SUNY Binghamton. Though this decision came with a measure of arduous ambiguity concerning how and when she may see her family again—the act of leaving her ‘home’ country of Kuwait did not weigh heavily of Kareem, given that this ‘home’ refuses to recognize her existence. She is just one of many that fall under Kuwait’s stateless population.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Kuwait is an extremely wealthy country with little measurable poverty. Bordering the Persian Gulf, lodged between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, this tiny country—slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey—holds more than 6 percent of the globe’s crude oil reserves. This asset accounts for more than 50 percent of its GDP, and 92 percent of its export revenue.

Sitting on such an expansive source of wealth allows Kuwait to take care of its citizens. Earlier this year, Business Insider placed Kuwait sixth on their ranking of richest countries based on GDP per capita. With a population of just above 4 million, the country brings in the equivalent of an annual $71,263 per person.

Each resident has access to free healthcare, education up to (and including) the university level, and monetary allowances from the government for major life occasions. If a Kuwaiti was to be married, for example, they would receive $19,000 American dollars for their doing so—half acting as an interest free loan, and the other half as a complimentary gift toward their future.

In 2004, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Princess Zain Al Sabah on her nationally-viewed show, confirming the extravagant lifestyle embraced by her and the majority of her ‘friends.’ She went on to explain that this lifestyle is accessible not only to royalty, but the ‘common,’ everyday citizens of Kuwait.

However, the contention with Kuwaiti’s government does not lay with the Kuwaiti common, nor the royal ‘friends’—but those that perhaps aren’t recognized as ‘friends’ at all. Unfortunately, there is a large proportion of individuals living in Kuwait that do not qualify for the benefits the Princess emphasized. In fact, they do not qualify as citizens; according to the Kuwaiti government, they do not exist. This is Kuwait’s stateless population.

Kareem and her family are known to the Kuwaiti people as ‘Bedoons,’ translating to mean ‘without’ in Arabic. They are descendants of Bedouin tribes, nomadic groups who have raised cattle and tended to crop across the Middle East and Arabian peninsula for centuries.

Traditionally, the Bedouin tribes have led self-sufficient lives, migrating at the turn of the season and rejecting modernity. Of course, tradition changes with the time, and descendants of this nomadic lifestyle have begun to seek more than perpetual exodus to fulfill their lives.

In the late 1950’s, before declaring sovereignty 1961, Kuwait’s government declared that all citizens must formally register before the country is recognized. To qualify for nationality one must meet the following requirements: one must have had settled in Kuwait prior to 1920 and maintained residence in the region; one must be a person in or outside Kuwait whose father is a Kuwaiti national; or one that can prove to have been born in Kuwait, even if their parents are unknown.

At the time of registry, however, a large proportion of Kuwaiti inhabitants lived in rural regions, lacking both the necessary paperwork and literary skills necessary to understand the weighty context of this request. Consequently, around 300,000 Kuwaiti people, including the ancestors of Kareem, did not become citizens.

Today, this would equate to one-third of the native population living in Kuwait. Those that had forgone the process of citizenship were left ‘without’ nationality. Thus, the majority of descendants remain without nationality—otherwise known as Kuwaiti’s ‘Bedoons.’

For several years post-independence, Kuwait’s stateless population continued to live unchallenged by their lack of nationality. Most kept to their tribal traditions, living outside of urban areas and seeking government assistance only on rare, emergency occasions. If public education was sought for a child, the Kuwaiti government allowed schooling for the Bidoon—despite their statelessness.

It was only after heightened tensions in the Middle-East in the late eighties that xenophobia began to emerge as a weapon against the Bidoon people. After a large portion of Kuwait’s people fled during the Iraqi invasion in 1991, only about half of the Bedoons were allowed re-entry.

Of course, Kuwait’s stateless population returned to a different world. Suspicions of Iraqi alignment ran rampant throughout the nation. Consequently, the Bidoon’s lack of formal nationality often receiving the brunt of this hostility.

To this day, over 100,000 Bedoons live without recognition in the only country they have ever called home. Most dwell in rural areas, exposed to unsuitable living conditions. Regardless of their ability to trace back their native roots, they are repeatedly denied citizenship and are unable to qualify for basic government subsidies on healthcare, education and housing/food allowances. On top of this, there still exists an equal number of stateless individuals in neighboring countries, perceived as refugees and denied access to their home altogether.

In a nation that can afford not only to meet the needs of their citizens, but encourage wealthy and prosperous lives—it is unfortunate that such a great number of its native people are living in a way that threatens their basic security.

In order for the world to understand the demographic of the Kuwaiti people and the true ‘wealth’ of this small nation, the government must first open its doors to Kuwait’s stateless population.

Briana Fernald

Photo: Flickr

The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic has decided to strip thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship, causing unruly behavior both inside and outside the country.

Latin American human rights groups are speaking out against the ruling and citing international and regional human rights models, believing the ruling to be fundamentally racist and inhuman, according to Al Jazeera.

Not only is the ruling causing issues in the Dominican Republic, but there have even been protests in New York City.  New Yorkers are, furthermore, not supportive of the annulment of citizenship of anyone born in the country to noncitizens after 1929. The New York Times reports that this decision is applicable to many as 200,000 people, mostly of Haitian decent.

Many have said that the ruling emphasized a history of racial prejudice in the country against not only Haitians, but their descendants as well.

Edward Paulino, assistant professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, who is Dominican-American, explains that, “Anything that’s seen as a criticism is seen as treasonous.”

Several years ago, two United Nations human rights experts described in a report a “profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination” against Haitians in particular, throughout the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic has fought with criticism for its treatment of Haitian migrants and this ruling has brought shame upon people within the country as well as internationally. The residents are already struggling with poverty and social exclusion and it is not beneficial in any way for them to be denounced.

Throughout the ruling the United States has signed an agreement worth 184 million to improve citizen safety and promote economic growth according to Dominican Today. The agreement accompanies the new strategy by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that is working to provide assistance to support the growth of small Dominican business and get them out of extreme poverty.

The businesses are primarily in the rural sector and USAID assists them by identifying new market opportunities.  They are also providing training and technology transfers to help such businesses produce quality products and services.

Despite this assistance, people throughout the Dominican Republic are focused on the issue of citizenship. There are tens of thousands of lives hanging in the balance and inaction is no longer an option. They are working to get out of poverty and the issue surrounding citizenship is distracting from finding the correct solutions.

Lindsey Lerner

Sources: Al Jazeera, New York Times, Dominican Today
Photo: Crowd Voice

Dominican_Law_Strips_Citizenship_and_ Human Rights
Thousands of residents in the Dominican Republic are now nationless, thanks to a new law passed by the country’s Constitutional Court, stripping Dominican-born children of Haitian migrants of their Dominican citizenship. This new Dominican law has experts warning that a human rights crisis may ensue. The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has also gotten involved.

“We are extremely concerned that a ruling of the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality, virtually all of them of Haitian descent, and have a very negative impact on their rights,” spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, was quoted telling reporters in Geneva.

More specifically, the law forbids Dominican nationality to children of illegal immigrants who have been in the country since 1929, because their parents are labeled as being “in transit.” According to a UN study, there are approximately 210,000 Dominican-born individuals of Haitian descent currently living in the Dominican Republic. This will cause people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic to be denied access to government services and place them in a position of constitutional limbo. The Dominican law presents a possibility for further discrimination and statelessness, since the majority of them do not hold Haitian citizenship.

Until 2010, the Dominican Republic automatically granted citizenship to all individuals born in the country. However, a constitutional change in 2010 claimed that citizenship would only be bestowed upon individuals born in the country to at least one parent of Dominican blood or foreign parents who are legal citizens.

The tension between the two nations, who share the island of Hispaniola, has been going on for centuries. Wars and massacres have occurred between the two, and despite the Dominican Republic’s aid donations to its neighbor after the 2010 earthquake which cooled some of the tension, the Caribbean nations’ conflicts have started again with this law, which is final and cannot be appealed.

Advocacy groups have been protesting, highlighting the fact that the law only propagates the sense of racism practiced towards black Haitians who have settled in the Dominican Republic. Experts have also been saying that the legal change is part of an effort to limit the number of Haitian immigrants into the Dominican Republic and instead promote self-deportation for Haitians already living there. In fact, Dominican politicians have feared the “Haitianization” of the country for well over a century, as more and more Haitians migrated to the Dominican Republic to escape the devastation in Haiti.

The Dominican electoral commission has been given one year to produce a list of people to be excluded from citizenship or stripped of it if they already hold it. The government also promised to present a path to obtaining Dominican citizenship for migrants, but gave no further details on how it would work or who would be eligible.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: Washington Post, NBC Latino, UN News Centre
Photo: NBC Latino

Thailand is often known as the land of beautiful beaches, burgeoning tourism, and The Hangover 2. But that’s not quite the whole picture. While Thailand has seen great developmental leaps over the past 20 years, the country still faces challenges with poverty and more recently growing inequality in Thailand.

At the surface, Thailand appears to lie in a positive, growing position. Starting in 1990, the poverty level decreased from 27 percent to 9.8 percent, in just 12 years. The number of chronically underweight children dropped to half its previous measurement in this same time period. Access to education and literacy rates continue to improve annually.

The problem lies in the fact that this growth has been concentrated in cities and urban areas, leaving the rural communities and hill tribes to suffer. Nearly one million children lack documents proving their birth registration. This means the Thai government does not recognize them as citizens, preventing them from receiving any governmental benefits and recognition of their basic human rights.

While unemployment stands at a promising 2 percent rate, child labor remains a fact of life for many, with an estimated 818,000 children aged five to fourteen generating income for their families. As Thailand’s economy continues to grow from increased international trade and as educational standards increase, this number is expected to fall.

Issues with water sanitation have continued to create health problems for 4 percent of the country, with the majority of that 4 percent consisting of rural communities without proper sanitary technology or regulations. This lack of clean water leads to malnutrition and the spread of disease through bacteria.

Human trafficking continues to stand out as significant problem for the Thai people. This underground industry leads to thousands of kidnapped people who are then forced into modern day slavery, in the form of prostitution or forced labor. The popularity of prostitution in the country also contributes to the spread of HIV and AIDS, currently afflicting more than 610,000 people.

Currently 9.8 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. This percentage is largely concentrated in the rural outskirts of the country. This demographic consists of small farmers, without access to education. In contrast, many citizens in the urban areas of Thailand have benefited from the job creation generated by the country’s growing international economy.

Geographically, the struggling sections of the country lie on the borders, with the hill tribes in the far northern and far southern regions remain left behind as the rest of Thailand has progressed over the last two decades. These isolated areas see the greatest problems with hunger, with women and children’s health in particular struggling with malnutrition and mortality rates. Without access to proper medical care, little improvement is being made and disease continues to spread. Similarly, a lack of education prevents these remote areas from growing economically.

While Thailand certainly has achieved great progress in meeting its problems with poverty, there remains much work to be accomplished. The growing disparity in both wealth and basic human rights must be addressed and the country must unify even its most distant regions in order to continue to move forward in its developmental journey.

– Allison Meade

Sources: World Vision, Central Intelligence Agency
Photo: Bunnie Blog