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Kuwait

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other individuals of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were widespread reports of abuse of migrant workers, especially domestic workers from Asia. Because there is no path to citizenship, all workers are considered expatriates and not labelled as migrants.

The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. There is no system for providing protection to refugees, and the government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year. According to UNHCR there were more than 3,000 registered asylum seekers and recognized refugees in the country. Most of these were from Syria, Iraq, and Somalia, and many were either employed with access to basic services or supported by human rights groups pending resolution of their UNHCR asylum requests and resettlement. Many were increasingly fearful of losing their jobs and/or residency status. Due to populist antiexpatriate sentiments in the country, the cabinet enacted policy making healthcare and education more expensive for foreign workers than for citizens. The immediate effect of this policy was witnessed by human rights organizations who reported that many foreign workers and their families that were receiving medical treatment chose to be discharged from hospitals rather than receive treatment they could no longer afford. Compounded by stagnant wages, higher cost of living, and a lack of job security, more persons–even legally employed workers, especially from conflict zones–began seeking asylum and resettlement in Europe, America, and Australia.

The law does not provide noncitizens, including bidoon, a clear or defined opportunity to gain nationality. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship. According to 2016 government figures, there were approximately 96,000 bidoon in the country, while Human Rights Watch estimated the bidoon population at more than 105,000.

The naturalization process for bidoon is not transparent, and decisions appeared arbitrary. The Central Agency for Illegal Residents, tasked with monitoring bidoon affairs, had more than 96,000 bidoon citizenship requests under review. According to UNHCR the bidoon population can be broken down into 8,000 who have clear and legitimate claims to citizenship, 35,000 who could possibly be eligible, and the remainder who have little or no claim under current laws.

According to bidoon activists and government officials, many bidoon were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. The government alleged that the vast majority of bidoon concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended special benefits to bidoon to entice them disclose their true nationality. So far 10,000 bidoon have admitted holding other nationalities. They claimed benefits that include residency that can be renewed every five years, free healthcare and education services as well as ration cards. Other privileges to those that come forward to adjust their status include priority employment after local nationals and obtaining driving licenses.

According to UNHCR some bidoon underwent DNA testing to prove their Kuwaiti nationality. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity in order to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing.

The government discriminated against bidoon in some areas. Some bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and subsidies to bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Bidoon activists claimed many bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, and attend school. The Court of Appeals affirmed court jurisdiction over bidoon complaints against the Central Agency including those related to certificate issuance. The Court of Appeals overturned the ruling issued by a first instance court that dismissed a complaint by a female bidoon against the agency that denied her the right to be issued some certificates over lack of jurisdiction. The agency attorneys pleaded that the agency work falls under the “sovereignty acts” that cannot be challenged in courts (such as citizenship issues).

The Ministry of Education partners with the Charity Fund for Education to pay for bidoon children to attend private schools, but the children must fall into one of seven categories to qualify for an education grant.

Many adult bidoon also lacked identification cards, preventing them from engaging in lawful employment or obtaining travel documents. This restriction resulted in some bidoon children not receiving an education and working as street vendors to help support their families. Many bidoon children who attended school enrolled in substandard private institutions because only citizens may attend public school.

The government allowed bidoon to work in some government positions, as dictated in the 2011 decree, including in the military. In April the government announced a new initiative that would allow the sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military.

Since the government treats them as illegal immigrants, bidoon do not have property rights.

Foreign Travel: Bidoon and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of some bidoon to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some bidoon to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage). The Ministry of Interior has not issued “Article 17” passports (temporary travel documents that do not confer nationality) to bidoon except on humanitarian grounds since 2014.

The law also permits travel bans on citizens and nonnationals accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country.

Exile: While the constitution prohibits exile of citizens, the government can deport foreigners for a number of legal infractions.

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has obtained a second nationality, which is against the law. The country does not give birthright citizenship based on the right of anyone born in the territory to nationality or citizenship. Additionally, the government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause, including a felony conviction and, subsequently, deport them. The government has justified the revocation of citizenship by citing a 1959 nationality law that permits withdrawal of citizenship from naturalized Kuwaitis who acquired citizenship dishonestly or threatened to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status derives from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights. The Court of Cassation ruled that the courts had jurisdiction over citizen revocation cases. Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing health care and other government services reserved for citizens. In April the Council of Ministers created a committee presided over by emiri adviser and former speaker Ali al-Rashid to review complaints of citizenship revocations since 1991. The committee restored the citizenships of seven out of 184 families. There were no known revocations of citizenship during the year.

The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants. According to the law, children derive citizenship solely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and nonnational fathers do not inherit citizenship. Female citizens may sponsor their nonnational children (regardless of age) and husbands for residency permits, and they may petition for naturalization for their children if the mother becomes divorced or widowed from a noncitizen husband.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future