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All Kuwaiti Bidoon are classed as illegal residents by the Kuwaiti state. However, Bidoon who were registered with the Executive Committee (the state body in charge of Bidoon) and subsequently had their nationality claims accepted by the government as Kuwaitis, were given Kuwaiti citizenship.

Bidoon' is used an umbrella term for several groups whose claimed nationality is not accepted by the Kuwaiti state. A Kuwaiti Bidoon by descent either from a stateless or foreign father, or whose ancestors failed to apply for or gain nationality will generally be stateless. A Kuwaiti Bidoon who have a claim to another nationality will not be stateless.

Although Kuwaiti Bidoon form a PSG, this does not mean that establishing such membership will be sufficient to make out a case to be recognised as a refugee.

The question to be addressed in each case will be whether the particular person will face a real risk of persecution on account of their membership of such a group.

Where a person does not qualify for asylum or humanitarian protection, it is open to the person to apply for leave to remain as a stateless person. This cannot be done at the same time as the asylum claim is being pursued.

Some Bidoon have been granted citizenship through regularisation programmes. The numbers and the underlying processes are unclear but may be in the order of hundreds per year, while approximately 100,000 requests are pending. As the person's fear is of ill treatment/persecution at the hands of the state, they will not be able to relocate to escape that risk.

Amnesty International stated that the Bidoon used to enjoy a status similar to that of Kuwaiti citizens until the Decree in 1986 changed the status of the Bidoon from legal residents without nationality to "illegal residents".

Who are Bidoon?

Kuwait’s population in the 19th and into the 20th century consisted of settled citizens who lived inside the walls of Kuwait City, and bedouin, or tribal nomads, who lived in the surrounding territories, frequently crossing borders between the present-day Gulf states.

At the turn of the 20th century approximately 50,000 people lived in Kuwait City, but after the discovery of oil in the 1930s, the city expanded substantially as bedouin began to settle there.

Following Kuwait’s issuance of its 1959 Nationality Law 2 the Kuwait authorities attempted to register all residents of Kuwait and identify those eligible for nationality. However, many of the bedouin either did not learn about the nationality drive, or neglected to register their claims.

Some could not read or write and those who kept no written records faced particular difficulties proving that they met the legal requirements of the new Nationality Law. Others simply put little stock in the new concept of nationality.

According to BBC News: ‘In Kuwait, about 10 percent of the population were bidoons and their lack of Kuwaiti passports - or indeed of passports of any type - means that they have trouble registering at schools, applying for driving licences and they can't freely travel abroad.

During the oil boom of the 1970s and throughout the Iran-Iraq war, there was a steady inflow of workers from Iraq. Many were well-qualified and quick to understand that abandoning their Iraqi nationality and declaring themselves bidoon meant they could join the Kuwaiti armed forces and police.

By the mid-1980s approximately 80 percent of the armed forces and police were bidoon. Others declared themselves bidoon so that they could reap the social and economic benefits which the status conferred at that time.

In her commentary on the Home Office Country Information and Guidance (CIG) Kuwait Bidoon, February 2014, for the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information (IAGCI), Claire Beaugrand, Institut français du Proche Orient (Ifpo) noted that:

‘The issue of the Bidoon in Kuwait is very complex, not least because, over more than fifty years, the State of Kuwait has been dealing with it through inconsistent policies. This inconsistency created various incentives and expectations on the part of the Bidoon, who developed, over time, different strategies and sought various types of papers in order to maximize their chances of naturalisation or solve their everyday conundrums... it is important to highlight three phases of different governmental policies:’

‘Initially, from the early 1960s to 1986 the State of Kuwait tolerated the grey area between nationals and foreigners, as a legacy of tribal nomadic practices but also as a convenient way to staff its security forces.’

‘As of 1986, it went back on this tolerant policy that translated into an exemption from the provisions of the law 17/1959 on Aliens’ residence; it then lumped all different cases together under a same “illegality” label. The government justified this measure by the fact that illegal migrants who falsely pretended that they had no national affiliation abused the vaguely defined category of Bidoon. This ushered into a period of pressure policy that stripped the Bidoon of the rights they had enjoyed so far as state’s tolerance; the rationale of the policy was to force the Bidoon to regularise their status and “reveal their true origin.” As of 1993, different government authorities were successively created to implement this policy.

‘While still tasked with ascertaining Bidoon’s national origins (whether foreign or Kuwaiti) on the basis of crossing data collected from all ministries and government agencies, the Central System to Resolve Illegal Residents’ Status (shortened as Central System), set up in November 2010, has gradually and selectively reversed the policy of rights deprivation. Although Bidoon are still considered as “illegal residents”, the Council of Ministers Decision No. 409/2011, promulgated on 6 March 2011, granted them a set of civil and human privileges and facilities.

Timeline

1959 – The nationality law defines categories of Kuwaiti nationality and a range of criteria and limitations.

1985-1986 – The status of the bidoon changed from legal residents without nationality to “illegal residents”. The Alien Residence Act was applied to bidoon, removing most rights enjoyed since independence (1961).

1987 – drivers’ licences ceased being issued or renewed to bidoon; the bidoon were also no longer able to register car ownership in their name.

1990 – Iraq invasion of Kuwait. Number of bidoon 250,000; however, many fled during the war and were denied reentry into Kuwait when the war ended.

1991 – Number of bidoon in Kuwait approximately 125,000.

1993 – The Central Committee to Resolve the Status of Illegal Residents was established to regularize the status of the bidoon. Concluded March 1996.

1996 – The Executive Committee for Illegal Residents’ Affairs (ECIR) was established to process all those who claimed to be illegal residents (bidoon). Files were opened, and information shared on their status with all state ministries and institutions. Those registered with the ECIR by 1996 were given temporary resident rights.

2000 – Law passed permitting naturalisation of individuals registered in the 1965 census and their descendants, limited to 2,000 per year, which has never been met.

2005-2008 – 3,346 bidoon granted citizenship.

2010 – November: the Central System to Resolve Illegal Residents’ Status was established and is the current administrative body responsible for reviewing Bidoon claims to nationality.  The Committee has accepted that 34,000 bidoon are meeting the eligibility requirements for Kuwaiti citizenship. 68,000 bidoon are said to be Iraqi citizens or have “other origins”, and have 3 years to correct their status, or face legal action. A further 4,000 individuals are recorded as status unknown.

2011 – February. Bidun community began protesting peacefully, demanding to be recognized as citizens of Kuwait. The security forces have used force to disperse demonstrations and arrest protesters, some of whom are still on trial for taking part in the demonstrations.

2013 – March: Parliament passed a law allowing naturalisation of 4,000 “foreigners” during 2013. However, no bidoon have benefitted from this new law.

2014 – February - March. Riot police forces arbitrarily arrested protesters and dispersed the Bidoon demonstrators with tear gas, smoke bombs, water canons, and physical violence. Police arrest main activists and organisers.

2015 Government officials suggest that Kuwait may “solve” the Bidun community’s nationality claims by paying the Comoros Islands to grant the Bidun a form of economic citizenship.

NM Kuwait CG(2013 ) Case Law

In the country guidance case of NM (documented/undocumented Bidoon: risk) Kuwait CG [2013] UKUT 00356(IAC) (24 July 2013), the Upper Tribunal held that ‘the evidence relating to the documented Bidoon does not show that they are at real risk of persecution or breach of their protected human rights. The undocumented Bidoon, however, do face a real risk of persecution and breach of their human rights.’ (paragraphs 100, 102, 103 and headnotes (2) and (3)).

In NM, the Tribunal also held that ‘the relevant crucial document, from possession of which a range of benefits depends, is the security card, rather than the “civil identification documents” referred to in the previous country guidance in HE [2006] UKAIT 00051.’ (paragraph 101 and headnote (1)).

It is the “security card” – officially known as a ‘Review Card’, issued by the “Central System to Resolve Illegal Residents’ Status” which was set up in November 2010 – which is the key document which determines whether a Bidoon is documented or not.

What is a Security Card?

The Tribunal defined what it meant by ‘security card’ as follows:

‘The document is not proof of ID, and does not make it clear on its face to what the holder is entitled. However, Bidoon who hold security cards are theoretically issued travel documents in the form of “temporary passports”, though in practice this is only for the purpose of travel for education, medical treatment or religious pilgrimage and typically remain valid only for the trip cited in the individual’s application.’

The court concluded that all undocumented Bidoon – i.e. all those Bidoon who do not possess the relevant ‘security card’ – face a real risk of persecution and breach of their human rights.

Documented or Undocumented?

The country guidance case of NM stated ‘It must be assumed that Bidoon who did not register between 1996 and 2000, and hence did not obtain ‘security cards’, are as a consequence undocumented Bidoon, though this must be seen in the context of the evidence that most Bidoon carry ‘security cards’ (Paragraph 33).
2.3.11 A range of benefits flow from possession of the ‘security card’. Without a ‘security card’ Bidoon are prevented from working, with few exceptions, prevented from receiving the most basic government services, denied rights to medical treatment, housing, documentation, education, and drivers licences (see Kuwait’s Nationality Law – Consequences of being a bidoon).

A person may hold a range of documents and still be regarded as ‘undocumented’ if they do not hold a ‘security card’. Even if the person has held a ‘security card’ they may be de facto undocumented where they are:

  • Unable to renew the security card: Generally, ‘security cards’ have to be renewed yearly or biannually. However, there are some which have to renewed more often. Some Bidoon can renew simply by presenting documents; others claim to have to undergo interviews every time. (see Documentation).
  • Blocked: Although originally intended to deny nationality to Bidoon who fought alongside Iraq during the 1991 invasion, ‘security blocks’ have reportedly also been used against activists and others, including those who participated in demonstrations. Once flagged, a person’s access to basic amenities – employment in particular – is severely curtailed, if not removed. A further level of ‘security flag’ has greater repercussions on the person’s family – denying them all the right to work and making access to healthcare and education more difficult.

The Stateless Provisions

Stateless persons will qualify for leave to remain in the UK if they meet the definition in paragraph 401 of the immigration rules, do not fail to be excluded under paragraph 402 and fulfil the requirements of paragraph 403.

This essentially means that a person must not be considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law, must be in the UK, and must not be excluded from being recognised as stateless because

  • (a) they have an alternative route to protection either through the UN or through being recognised by the country of their former habitual residence as having rights and obligations akin to the country’s citizens or
  • (b) because of their behaviour.

Furthermore, a person will only be considered stateless if they are not admissible to their country of former habitual residence or any other country, as per paragraph 403 of the immigration rules.

Kuwait’s Nationality Law

Kuwaiti nationality is determined by Kuwait’s 1959 Nationality Law. Some of the main provisions are:

  • Article 1 - those who were settled in Kuwait prior to 1920 and who maintained their normal residence there until the date of the publication of the Law;
  • Article 2 - those born in, or outside, Kuwait whose father is a Kuwaiti national;
  • Article 3 – those born in Kuwait whose parents are unknown;
  • Article 4 - Kuwaiti nationality may be granted by Decree upon the recommendation of the Minister of the Interior to those proficient in Arabic who could prove their lawful residence in Kuwait for 15 years for Arabs or 20 years for non-Arabs.

Citizenship derives entirely from the father; children born to Kuwaiti mothers and non-national fathers do not inherit Kuwaiti citizenship unless the mother is divorced or widowed from the non-national father. The government designates religion on birth and marriage certificates.

The government automatically granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including bidoon infants. Parents were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their bidoon children because of additional administrative requirements, creating an inability to access other public services such as education and health care.

Kuwaiti women married to non-national fathers can pass their nationality on to children (upon reaching the age of majority) if the couple divorce or the father dies, when the father is unknown or has failed to establish legal paternity. Prior to 1980, citizenship could also be passed on to the child upon the death of the stateless husband.

Civil ID Card

Civil ID cards are issued to Kuwaiti citizens and legal foreign residents only. The Bidoon, identified as illegal residents, are not entitled to receive them. Civil ID cards are required to rent or purchase real estate or cars, open bank accounts, enrol in private universities and some private schools; hold legal employment; and receive birth, marriage or death certificates.

Green Card (1996-2000)

Bidoon who registered with the  Executive Committee, in charge of Bidoon between 1996 and 2000 (the cut-off date set by ministerial decree) were issued with security cards (informally known as green cards), which display personal data including the registrant’s name, address and date of birth. The reverse of the card states that “this card does not serve as proof of identity, and may be used only for specified purposes.” The cards are recognised throughout the country as being held only by Bidoon. 

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