Kuwait: Online Advocacy for the Stateless Bidoun

This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.

Since hundreds of Kuwait's 100,000 strong Bidoun were attacked by police for protesting in support of others detained earlier in the year, a number of bloggers and international organizations have been stepping up their support for the stateless people in the hope of drawing attention to their plight. The United Nations, for example, launched its own campaign to end the ‘limbo” facing stateless people in August.

Bidoun may be lacking certain legal documents or may have failed to register as citizens when Kuwait became independent in 1961.

“Apart from the misery caused to the people themselves, the effect of marginalizing whole groups of people across generations creates great stress in the societies they live in and is sometimes a source of conflict,” Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was quoted as saying in reference to the Bidoun.

Since then, many have also paid tribute to Bidoun activist; Refugees International reports that Global Voices Author Mona Kareem recently spoke at the US Institute of Peace in Washington DC:

[…] it was the testimony of three female statelessness advocates that most moved participants. Mona Kareem, a member of Kuwait's stateless bidoun community, told the audience that despite the hardships she had faced because of her status – harassment, legal troubles, travel restrictions – she was “the luckiest of my community.”

“Many of my friends could only hope to marry a good husband,” who might provide them with Kuwaiti citizenship, “or for death to take them away by committing suicide.” She added, “None of them have hope. None of them even use the word ‘hope’. Bidoun women have to confront both the conservatism of their community and the injustice of their country.”

Image from International Calamity: Human Rights Policy Tumblr

Image from International Calamity: Human Rights Policy Tumblr

The IbishBlog went further by not only interviewing Kareem, but also by praising her use of Twitter to draw attention to the issue:

One of the most interesting people I've come to know through Twitter is Mona Kareem, a poet, journalist, blogger and tweep who also happens to be bidoun jinsiya – “without citizenship” – from Kuwait. First, it's almost impossible to follow events in Kuwait quickly and efficiently in English — and in many cases at all — without consulting her Twitter feed (@monakareem), which does the work of 20 typical Middle East journalists. I'd go so far as to call it indispensable. More significantly, through her tweets and blogs she's introduced me, and I'm sure a lot of other people, to not only up-to-date information but background details on an issue we either didn't know about or, in my case, knew about only very vaguely: the plight of the stateless of Kuwait. […]

Given this extraordinary combination, I sought out the opportunity to interview Mona in person […] about a variety of issues, particularly that of the bidoun in Kuwait, Kuwaiti politics, and the tweeting and blogging scene in her country. […] It began in a most extraordinary manner: she showed me some documents, the like of which I've never seen before. First, there was her silver Kuwaiti travel document, as opposed to the normal blue Kuwaiti passports issued to citizens, which literally identified her as an “illegal resident” of the country. The visas in it were equally interesting, and in some cases almost as horrifying. […] I'm used to seeing the “travel documents,” “permits,” “IDs,” and other inherently insulting documents issued by some Arab states to Palestinian refugees, particularly those in Lebanon. But I've never seen these, and in themselves they told quite a horrifying story.

And, as I write, today the bidoun in Kuwait are again protesting, and again facing not only severe repression which is not meted to out those deemed “citizens” by the Kuwaiti government, but also facing the added insult of continuously having to show their IDs since protesting is, as she points out, a “right” at best reserved for Kuwaiti “citizens.” It's all being barely covered by the media, particularly in English, but this ongoing outrage deserves serious consideration by all of those who care about human rights, particularly in the Arab world. In Mona, the stateless of Kuwait have, as you'll quickly note, a remarkable young advocate.

Refugees International has also been active on Twitter and this week published an eye witness account of the attack on Bidoun protesters on their blog:

We sat down on the ground, with our backs to the police force. There were at least 30 vehicles from the police and Kuwait intelligence force – more than I have ever seen before.

They attacked us without any notice. Some of us stayed where we were, while the rest ran away. I ran away with my friends, and the police force were followed us into the residential area, in between the houses. I ran for almost eight kilometers and was followed by dark-colored GMC Yukon cars.

They arrested and beat many of those who remained at the protest site, and used cattle prods, smoke bombs, tear gas, and hot water cannons against them.

Another major issue was that they refused to send the injured to the hospital only few steps away. Instead, they sent them to the police hospital in order to cover up their mess.

The issue, of course, is not new and activists such as Kareem and others have raised the problem of statelessness before, but in June 2011, Global Voices reported on how Bidoun and their supporters were increasingly turning to social media to advance their demands for citizenship rights. Mona Kareem can be followed on Twitter at @monakareem while Refugees International is at @RefugeesIntl.

Kareem's most recent post for Global Voices on this week's dispersal of a Bidoun protest in Kuwait is here.

This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.

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