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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.

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. Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain passports, which employers illegally took from them when they began their employment.

Exile: While the constitution prohibits exile of citizens, the government can deport foreigners for a number of legal infractions. While the constitution states the “emir is the head of state and shall be immune and inviolable,” it also states, “No Kuwaiti may be deported from Kuwait.”

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who is born a citizen unless that individual has obtained a second nationality, which is against the law. Nevertheless, the government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause, including a felony conviction, and subsequently deport them. During 2014 the government revoked the citizenship of at least 33 individuals–some dual nationals, some not–including opposition activists, a media owner, a Salafist cleric, and several tribal members. The government justified the revocations 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. In April the Court of Cassation scheduled a hearing to consider the legality of the revocation of citizenship of former MP Abdullah al-Barghash and his family (al-Barghash was one of the 33 who had his citizenship revoked in 2014). In May the court suspended dealing with the case until a request for a new judge could be resolved. In October an administrative court restored citizenship to Ahmad Jabr al-Shemmari, the former owner of opposition media Alam al-Youm newspaper and television station, after 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. 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.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: 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 asylum request.

STATELESS PERSONS

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 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. As of April the Central Agency had more than 96,000 bidoon citizenship requests under review.

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. According to the government, as of September, 8,004 bidoon have adjusted their legal status since 2011 claiming Saudi, Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, Jordanian, and other nationalities. In April the government stated that 32,000 bidoon were qualified for consideration for citizenship but that only 8,000 would be eligible due to their security status and criminal records.

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 genealogical bias.

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.

According to a government official, the government issued 2,664 birth and death certificates to bidoon in the first nine months of 2015. The Ministry of Justice issued 1,439 marriage and divorce certificates to bidoon in the first nine months of 2015. But government sources stated approximately 15,000 bidoon children were not provided birth certificates due to security restrictions. 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. According to government officials, as of May, 510 bidoon students were attending Kuwait University.

Zakat House, a government agency that falls under the Religious Affairs Directorate, collected and dispensed donations, provided food, subsidies, financial aid, and training to bidoon and provided monthly financial assistance to 14,455 bidoon families totaling 6.5 million dinars ($21.45 million) from January through June. It also paid for the DNA testing required for every bidoon applying for citizenship.

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 from the household working as street vendors to help support their families and not receiving an education. Many bidoon children who attended school enrolled in substandard private institutions because only citizens may attend public school. In May 2015, however, the government approved the transfer of 5,000 bidoon students from private to public schools due to their families’ service in the military. Many bidoon families depended on charity to assist with medical and educational expenses. The government announced it issued 35,844 identification cards to Bidoon as of May.

The government allowed bidoon to work in some government positions, as dictated in the 2011 decree, including in the military. In March the government announced there were 2,030 bidoon, who were children of Kuwaiti mothers, in the army.

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

In 2014 a high-level official in the Ministry of Interior announced a proposal to give “economic citizenship” of the small island country of Comoros to the bidoon. At the time rights groups were concerned that the government might force them to take another, illegitimate nationality and potentially be vulnerable to deportation. As of September, the Comoros plan remained under deliberation.

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