Bidoon (stateless)

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Not to be confused with Bedouin.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Kuwait,[2] UAE
Related ethnic groups
Bedouins · Arabs

Bidoon, also known as Stateless Arabs[2] (Arabic: بدون‎, bedoon al jinsiya), are stateless people from the Arabic bidūn jinsīyah (Arabic: بدون جنسية‎, without nationality).[3]

Kuwait's Bidoon are mostly descendants of nomadic Bedouins.[4] Kuwait identifies the Bidoon "illegal residents".[5] The Kuwaiti government believes the Bidoon are foreign nationals from neighboring countries. In May 2014, the Kuwaiti government discovered the true nationalities of 6,051 Bidoon, most were Saudi nationals hiding their passports.[6] Several organizations have criticized Kuwait for its handling of the issue.


Kuwait's early population in the 19th century consisted of settlers from the Arabian Peninsula; mainly members of the Tribes of Arabia; who established roots and lived inside the walled gates of Kuwait City before the " International Administration" of Sykes–Picot Agreement post World War I. At the end of the 19th Century, nearly 50,000 people lived in Kuwait, but this number increased substantially after the discovery of oil in the late 1920s.

Zones of French (blue), British (red) and Russian (green) influence and control established by the Sykes–Picot Agreement. At a Downing Street meeting of 16 December 1915 Sykes had declared "I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre to the last k in Kirkuk."[7]

In 1959, Kuwait was preparing for full independence from the United Kingdom and issued a Nationality Law (LAW NO.15). This law set forth the conditions for naturalization ranging from eligibility to rights of nationals. The government attempted to register all of the residents of Kuwait, but many of those outside the city walls were ill-informed about the scheme. Others who were aware of the scheme did not buy into the idea of a nationality and decided to forgo registration.

The latter of the two above mentioned categories posed a significant dilemma to Kuwaiti authorities. There was no way to prove that current day bidoon are decendents of those who did not register for citizenship or were unaware of it. Thus, the Kuwaiti government granted the bidoon residency permits until they could somehow present claims for nationality. The temporary paperwork presented to them to follow up on their claims identified them as "without nationality"- in arabic Bidoon Jinsiya.[8]

His Highness the Emir of Kuwait despite the challenges[edit]

The Emir of Kuwait out of solidarity, leadership and mainly humanitarianism[9] was always keen to assist and came to the aid of the Bidoon and needy within justification as such are the customs of Islam.[10] In accordance with Islamic traditions, His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah; then, Prime Minister of Kuwait established two charitable funds for the healthcare and education of the Bidoon (with no nationality) and the needy.[11]

Third Class Citizens[edit]

The travails of the Bidoon can be seen in all segments of their daily life. From schooling, jobs, medical attention, to basic rights, the Bidoon remain under an uncertain state of limbo. They comprise a large segment of Kuwait's population of 3.4 Million, and yet have zero political representation. As a result of the constant political infighting and government interregnums, the case of the Bidoon has become marginalized as an ancillary issue. With this, and their growing population, the Bidoon have been relinquished to that of third class citizens.


Kuwaiti law prevents residents who lack a civil identification card to own property or receive business licenses. Furthermore, the Bidoon are ineligible for the majority of jobs in Kuwait as their employers require them to present civil ID cards in order to register them as legal employees. As a result, the Bidoon often work in the informal sector. This part of the economy is not regulated, and often financial disputes between Bidoon and regular citizens often go to the favor of the national ID holder. The reasons for this are often that the Bidoon are not part of any trade unions. Furthermore, fear of deportation is often a key element in the Bidoon not pursuing financial claims.


In terms of schooling, the Kuwaiti government prevents non-residents from attending private schools. In response, the government has created alternative "Bidoon Only" schools that are exclusively taught in Arabic. Resultantly, Bidoon children receive ostensibly less of a well-rounded education.


The Kuwaiti public health system affords universal free medicare to all Kuwaiti citizens. Expatriates and Bidoon receive limited insurance based healthcare with fixed fees. Bidoon without security cards receive no healthcare at all. In order for members of the Bidoon community to receive treatment at public clinics and hospitals, they would require a security card. According to Human Rights Watch, however, several Bidoon that were interviewed claimed that these programs did not fully cover their health care costs. As a result, they could not afford proper medication or surgery that was prescribed by medical professionals.


The term "Bidoon" is used mostly in Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain,[4] and Iraq,[12] whose governments consider the presence of large numbers of stateless residents problematic.[13] In Bahrain, the term "Bidoon" is used to describe stateless descendants of Iranians.[4] Although some of the Bidoon are originally Bedouin, the two terms have different meanings.[14][15]


In Kuwait, most of the Bidoon are descendants of nomadic Bedouins.[16] The majority of the Bidoon's population stems from three main sources: 1) Kuwaiti Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior employees who were recruited in the 1960s to fill the ranks of the Non-Commissioned Officer corps; 2) those who claim their ancestors did not comply with nationality requirements because of a lack of documentation or failed to apply for nationality at the time of Kuwait's independence; and 3) children, illegitimate or otherwise, born to Kuwaiti mothers and foreign or stateless fathers.[8] In the 1970s, one-third to one-half of the Kuwaiti Army were consisted of Iraqi and Saudi tribesmen.[17] In the 1980s, the Bidoon comprised 80-90% of the Kuwaiti Army In the Enlisted and Non-Commissioned Officer Corps.[18] Until 1990, the Bidoon accounted for 80% of the Kuwaiti Army.[19] After the Gulf War, the number of Bidoon in the Kuwaiti Army declined. It is currently estimated that the Bidoon account for 40% of the current Kuwaiti Army in the Enlisted/NCO Corps.[20] In the last few years, many organizations have criticized Kuwait for its handling of the Bidoon.[8]

Kuwait's Nationality Law[edit]

Established in 1959, Kuwait's Nationality Law was set forth to govern the naturalization process. Applicants must fulfill several requirements and provide legal documentation as proof. One claim that the Bidoon of Kuwait have made is that they have been "long-term" residents of the country and have been there for multiple generations. The Nationality law, however, excludes a measure of time in residence as a condition that meets the criteria for citizenship. Furthermore, it has been amended several times since its implementation and has progressively added increasing levels of scrutiny regarding citizenship. For example, in 1980, an amendment was put forth that stripped Kuwaiti women the right to bestow citizenship upon her children in the case that the father is non-Kuwaiti. This discrimination against women further amplifies the problems of the Bidoon. According to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), “States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality… States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.” The ongoing policies that prevent Kuwaiti women from bestowing citizenship on children of Bidoon men stands against this charter.

The Central System to Resolve Illegal Residents’ Status[edit]

The Central System to Resolve Illegal Residents’ Status or the more commonly known as the Bidoon Committee, is the main government body tasked to oversee all issues regarding the Bidoon. This apparatus functions as a sort of claims department where the Bidoon will register a case for citizenship and await resolution. As of 2014, 106,000 claims for nationality have remained unresolved. Facing increasing pressure from human rights organizations to expedite this process, the Bidoon committee offered a concession in issuing 106,000 security cards that would effectively safeguard the Bidoon from deportation.

Allegations of Foul Play[edit]

The committee is alleged to have collected secret information on the security card holders in order to determine their "true" nationality. If, for example, it is determined that the Bidoon in question is a Saudi National who has destroyed his or her identification documents, the committee would deny approval for any official documentation unless that individual forfeits his or her claim on Kuwaiti nationality. According to interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch, the arbitrary nature of determining criteria for nationality lacked supporting evidence.

Arab Spring[edit]

As the 2011 Arab Spring protests took place in the streets of the Middle East calling for the the abdication of their leaders or sweeping reformations, the Bidoon staged their own protests against years of disenfranchisement and discrimination by the Kuwaiti government. Thousands of men, women, and children in the took to the streets and demonstration areas outside the city centers in al-Ahmadi, Taima’a, and Sulaibiyya seeking basic rights of citizenship and enfranchisement. They were met with Ministry of Interior forces that used gas and water cannons to dispel the gatherings. As these incidents gathered momentum and the level of violence grew, the government issued conciliatory statements and prospects of reform.


In March 2011, Saleh Al-Fadhala, the head of the Bidoon committee, announced a set of "eleven Bidoon rights" that would be implemented in new government decrees. Some of these benefits include the right to education, birth certificates, health care, and employment.[21] This attempt at mollification on the part of the government would prove useless. As the dying embers of the of the Arab Spring faded away, the Kuwaiti Bidoon were still active and continuing to challenge the government for their rights.

In June 2011, the Kuwaiti government in coordination with the Zakat house, launched a scholarship fund to support students who did not have nationality. It was reported that 12,000 students have matriculated using this initiative. In the same year, the government also availed 4,866 rent-controlled housing units for Bidoon who worked in the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense. Furthermore, the Ministry of Interior issued passports to 32,727 Bidoons in order to take part in the pillgramge to Mecca "Hajj".[22]

In January 2013, 80,000 Bidoons were issued national identification cards.

The Eleven Bidoon Rights[edit]

  1. Free treatment for illegal residents through the Charitable Fund for Health Care for Needy residents of Kuwait.
  2. Free education for the children of illegal residents through the Charitable Fund for the Education of Needy Children in Kuwait.
  3. The issuance of birth certificates for the children of illegal residents that includes the term “nonKuwaiti” in the slot for citizenship.
  4. The issuance of death certificates for illegal residents that includes the term “non-Kuwaiti” in the slot for citizenship.
  5. The issuance of marriage contracts for illegal residents that includes the term “non-Kuwaiti” in the slot for citizenship.
  6. The issuance of divorce certificates for illegal citizens that includes the term “non-Kuwaiti” in the slot for citizenship.
  7. The issuance of driver’s licenses that includes the term “non-Kuwaiti” in the slot for citizenship.
  8. Disabled illegal residents have access to the services offered by the Supreme Council for the Disabled in accordance with existing conditions.
  9. Eligibility to obtain all types of authorizations from the Department of Authentication.
  10. Enabling the employment of illegal residents in the government and private sectors according to the need for work.
  11. The granting of provision cards to eligible illegal residents.

Current Situation[edit]

The Kuwaiti government has recently ordered the naturalization of up to 4,000 of the estimated 120,000 Bidoons in the country, but it is unclear whether this order will be carried out for just the Bidoon people or will include naturalization of others, as Kuwait has done in the past.[23]

In Bahrain, stateless people are denied the right to hold legal residency,[4] are not allowed the right to travel abroad,[4] buy houses,[4] and to hold government jobs.[4] Recently, the Bahraini government issued regulations preventing them from sending their children to public schools and to receive free medical care.[4] Bidoons can also get deported at any time.[4] Since the beginning of the 1980s, the Bahraini government has deported hundreds of Bidoons to Iran.[4]

In the United Arab Emirates, stateless people cannot get a drivers license, go to school, obtain a marriage licence, receive routine health services (they will be treated at hospitals), or legally work.

In November 2014, the Kuwaiti government offered Comoros citizenship and legal residency to Bidoon people.[24][25]

HRW Recommendations for the Kuwaiti Government[edit]

  • Develop a strategic plan to remedy Kuwait’s longstanding problem of statelessness in accordance with international legal standards and in consultation with UNHCR and local civil society organizations. Publish a roadmap and timetable for ending statelessness in Kuwait and dedicate adequate resources to expediting resolution.
  • Grant temporary legal residency to stateless individuals pending resolution of their claims to Kuwaiti nationality. Cease treating the Bidoon as “illegal residents.”
  • Grant nationality to children born in Kuwait who would otherwise be stateless.
  • Grant nationality to long-term residents with strong claims to nationality, including residents who lack documented ties to other states and whose primary place of residence, familial, economic, and/or social ties are with Kuwait.
  • Register all children born in Kuwait upon birth and issue them birth certificates.
  • Issue travel documents, marriage registration, death certificates, and drivers’ licenses to stateless persons.
  • Eliminate discrimination against Kuwaiti women by giving them the same legal right as Kuwaiti men to confer nationality upon their spouses and children, including Bidoon spouses and children.
  • Collect and publish data on stateless persons in Kuwait, including data on births and deaths, health, education, and employment indicators, and economic conditions.
  • Ratify the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.[8]

The Case of Talal[edit]

This is the personal account of "Talal O," a 27 year old Bidoon who has been living in Jahra, Kuwait:

I come from a Bedouin background. My family’s life [in the past]... all they worried about was finding water sources, grass for the sheep, basic necessities in life. You can imagine; they were not educated. I remember a time in my childhood when I was actually visiting my uncles and aunts, and they were [living] in tents and what not. It was not such a very long time ago.

When Kuwait became an independent country, the whole concept of citizenship was a new thing to people. My grandfather [thought], “I’m not even sure I need this.” He just decided not to do it [obtain his citizenship papers].

I was born in Jahra, in the old city. For the first two years [of school], I went to a government school just like any other Kuwaiti, mainly because my dad worked for the Ministry of Defense. Bidun [with] parents who work for the ministry do enjoy certain privileges and services that other Bidun don’t.

[When] the [1990 Iraqi] invasion happened, that’s when everything changed for the Bidun. People started looking at the Bidun suspiciously. There are families back in the day who were friends, then suddenly... there was this lack of trust and... overall xenophobia. After [the war ended] I had to go to a private school. It was the [worst] kind of school you can imagine; the standards were really, really low. I basically continued my education in these private schools. [There are] a few different schools owned by the same company; it’s called Meshaal al-Jahra. Almost any Bidun you meet in Jahra will have gone there. My [graduating] class in high school was pretty much 100 percent Bidun.

My cousins, their dad was not [working] in the army or the Ministry of Interior or anything. He was doing whatever he could – sometimes he would sell vegetables on the street, all sorts of odd jobs. They used to go to these schools way before me. They had to pay the fees themselves, [for them,] there was no aid from the government. [When I graduated from high school], it was then that I really realized I’m Bidun – what it meant.

There was an educational fair in Kuwait, a lot of American universities [were there.] I was so thrilled; I collected all the brochures and leaflets. I was fully convinced I would actually go to the States and study. [But] my family [said], “You can’t do this. First of all we can’t really afford it; second, even if we were to make such an investment, we have heard a lot about Bidun who [went] to study who had their passport taken away when they came back for their summer holidays and could never finish their studies.’ They were afraid of that. Back then there were no private universities [in Kuwait, so] the only option I had was to go to this technical institute.

[At my] very first job, I worked there... for three or four months. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs [would visit] a company without an appointment and check if everyone had their residency [visa] or not. I remember when they visited the company I worked for; the Ministry official came up to me and asked me for my ID. He said, “How the hell did you get this job?” His voice was really loud. He said, “You don’t have a right to get this job; you’re not supposed to work here.” He verbally abused me in front of everyone. That was another time in my life when I [thought], “This is what it’s like to be a Bidun.”

My aunt got citizenship through marriage. The company that my aunt owns sponsors my residency – it sponsors the whole family, anyone older than 18. Everything we own is under her name, including the house we live in.

We’re doing well compared to your average Bidun. We really came to terms with it – it’s not like we can do anything. I do keep hearing about friends who are giving up. [Kuwaiti citizenship is like] some sort of club: when they got enough members in, they said “listen, that’s it, we’re closing the door.” Whoever didn’t get in the right time...that’s all there is to it.[26]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Kuwait: Whether Bedoun residents who were included in the 1965 census are able to obtain citizenship; whether Bedoun residents can access healthcare, education and employment; information on Bedoun mobility rights, including whether an individual with a Bedoun card, who was registered in the 1965 census, but who left Kuwait illegally without a passport, is able to return to Kuwait, 20 February 2013, KWT104009.E, available at: [accessed 13 November 2013]
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Fuchs, Martina (19 February 2011) "Kuwait police clash with hundreds of protesters", Reuters, archived here by WebCite
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Iranians in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates: Migration, Minorities, and Identities in the Persian Gulf Arab States. Eric Andrew McCoy. 2008. p. 48. 
  5. ^ "Kuwait: Stateless ‘Bidun’ Denied Rights". Kuwait considers the Bidun as illegal residents. 
  6. ^ 6,051 illegal residents in Kuwait adjusted status by May
  7. ^ A Line in the Sand, James Barr, p.12
  8. ^ a b c d
  9. ^ [1], Honoring Kuwait 2014, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA),Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah...A Humanitarian Leader; Section on "Two charity funds for Bedoun", Page 23; Retrieved 17/12/2014
  10. ^ [2], Honoring Kuwait 2014, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA),Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah...A Humanitarian Leader; Section on "Forgiveness and tolerance", Page 23; Retrieved 17/12/2014
  11. ^ [3], Honoring Kuwait 2014, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA),Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah...A Humanitarian Leader; Section on "Two charity funds for Bedoun", Page 23; Retrieved 17/12/2014
  12. ^ World Migration 2005 Costs and Benefits of International Migration. International Organization for Migration. 2005. p. 53. 
  13. ^ Staff (3 March 2011) "March 8 Parliament session to discuss vital decisions" Al-Watan Daily Newspaper; archived here by WebCite
  14. ^ Hamad, Aziz A. (1991) A Victory turned sour: human rights in Kuwait since liberation Middle East Watch, Human Rights Watch, New York, page 51, ISBN 1-56432-041-3
  15. ^ Henckaerts, Jean-Marie (1995) Mass expulsion in modern international law and practice Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands, page 97, ISBN 90-411-0072-5
  16. ^ "Kuwait: Stateless ‘Bidun’ Denied Rights". 
  17. ^ Mercenaries, Pirates, and Sovereigns. p. 90. 
  18. ^ "Government of United Kingdom". p. 4. 
  19. ^ "Challenges of Security in Kuwait". p. 5. 
  20. ^ "Challenges of Security in Kuwait". p. 6. 
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