The International Observatory on Statelessness


Approvimately 80,000 to 140,000 stateless Bidun reside in Kuwait. Most Bidun in Kuwait are descendants of Bedouin tribes that roamed freely across national borders in the region. Either because their ancestors failed to understand the importance of citizenship, because of illiteracy, or given their centuries-old nomadic way of life, they could not furnish sufficient proof that they were settled in any particular country. As a result, hundreds of thousands became stateless.

The country’s 1959 Nationality Law defined Kuwaiti nationals as persons who were settled in Kuwait prior to 1920 and who maintained their normal residence there until the date of the publication of the law. Approximately one third of the population was recognized as full-fledged citizens. Another third was naturalized and granted partial citizenship rights. The remaining third was classified as “bidun jinsiya,” meaning “without citizenship.” The law has been amended 14 times since and with almost every amendment, it has become more restrictive. For example, the 1959 law (Article 3) granted citizenship to children of a Kuwaiti mother when at least one of four circumstances existed: the father was unknown, paternity could not be proven, the father’s nationality was unknown, or he was stateless. When amended in 1980, the mention of unknown nationality and statelessness was omitted.

After 1985, Bidun were dismissed from their jobs (historically in the military or police forces), children were barred from public and private schools, and driving licenses were revoked. They could no longer carry passports (known as Article 17 passports) unless they left the country and renounced the right to return. Following the liberation of the country from Iraqi occupation in 1991, they were fired en masse from positions in the military and police. Only a small fraction was rehired. Those dismissed could not collect their severance pay unless they produced a passport, either Kuwaiti or foreign, or left the country.

The Bidun cannot petition the courts to have their citizenship claims adjudicated. Citizenship in Kuwait is passed on to children through their fathers, not their mothers. Consequently, the children of a Kuwaiti woman and a Bidun husband are also Bidun. In theory a child of a divorced Kuwaiti woman or widow can acquire citizenship, creating an incentive for couples to divorce for the sake of their children’s future. However, interviewed individuals have said that they are still waiting on their cases.