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Kuwait is a small, oil-rich country, bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the north and Iran to the east. However, the problem of statelessness has yet to be resolved in the country. In 1959, Kuwait passed a Nationality Law, which defined nationals as persons who settled in the country before 1920 and maintained normal residence there until enactment of the law. At that time, about one-third of the population was classified as bidoon jinsiya (without nationality). The current number of bidoon is estimated to range from 80,000-140,000.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Bidoon once made up the bulk of the armed forces and police, individuals who served their country loyally. After 1985, however, the government of Kuwait dismissed the bidoon from their jobs, barred their children from public and private schools, and revoked their driving licenses. Following the liberation of the country from Iraqi occupation in 1991, the government further stepped up its efforts to strip the bidun of their rights.
Lack of legal status impacts all areas of life for bidoon: their identity, family life, residence, health, livelihood, and lack of a political voice. Employment in the formal sector is unstable and usually only possible through “favors”, so bidoon are forced to seek livelihoods in the underground economy. Their vulnerable status and lack of institutional protection renders them exploitable in what has been described as “a new form of slavery.”
In July 2006, Kuwait’s parliament created a committee to address the issue of the bidoon. On a nearly annual basis parliament approves a law granting citizenship to 2,000 bidun – a commendable act that is not fulfilled in practice. In addition to parliamentary activity, the bidoon themselves and sympathetic citizens have come together to form the Popular Committee for Support of the Bidoon.