Bidoon Women in Kuwait

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice. 9 January 2024

We have been instructed to represent an asylum application for a woman who is a Kuwaiti Bidoon and who is stateless. She had brothers in the UK all of whom are stateless Kuwaiti Bidoons and has no family left in Kuwait given that her father and mother have also arrived in the UK and claimed asylum on the same basis. She claimed asylum in the UK on the basis that she has a well-founded fear of persecution and we stated that she has fear based on being an undocumented Bidoon in Kuwait and a victim of domestic violence. The claim for asylum was successful.

Our client fears persecution in Kuwait as a result of her status as an undocumented Bidoon in Kuwait and a victim of domestic violence. We have managed to demonstrate, as part of her asylum application, the following points:-

  1. Who are Bidoons? Bidoons can be understood as being two categories; those who have cards and therefore are documented and those who are undocumented. In 2000 the Kuwaiti Government permitted the naturalization of Bidoon people and their descendants if they could provide proof of registration in the 1965 Census, thereby proving that they were in the country at the time of independence, but only a small number of individuals have been able to acquire nationality this way. Bidoons who were documented have difficulty renewing these review cards and have difficulty obtaining basic civil documentation such as birth, marriage and death certificates.
  2. We have managed to illustrate that the situation and experience of undocumented Bidoons in Kuwait includes administrative difficulties which results in having no access to social services such as healthcare, education, formal employment and bank accounts in addition to discriminatory legal and social practices. Furthermore, there is no option for those who are born in Kuwait as Bidoons to naturalise. The overall situation that many Bidoons find themselves led them to be politically and socially powerless and the situation for undocumented Bidoons specifically has been described by the Home Office in their own country policy and information saying that the situation for Bidoons in Kuwait amounts to persecution, in breach of their human rights.
  3. According to the US Department of States Report, Bidoon leaders allege that when some leaders of the Bidoon community attempted to obtain Government services or renew these cards, officials required them to sign a blank piece of paper to receive the necessary paperwork. Later on, Bidoon activists reported that the agency would write letters on the signed paper stating that they have had other nationality.
  4. Bidoons who are undocumented are excluded from all access to basic rights and services with no access to healthcare, formal employment, formal housing, etc. Furthermore, many undocumented and also documented Bidoons face a risk of arrest and, according to our country expert and other resources, Bidoon children face vulnerability by Kuwaiti national laws which dictate that nationality is transmitted to the patrilineal descent. Thus, children of Bidoons do not have any claim to citizenship if their fathers are not classed as Kuwaiti citizens. Many Bidoons face poverty and social segregation and the general situation is such that they feel powerless and isolated.
  5. According to our country expert, many Kuwaitis do not endorse the naturalization of Bidoon as this would skew demographics greatly and disrupt the Sunni majority in the country or place strain on the welfare support that is handed to Kuwaiti citizens. As undocumented Bidoons are not recognised as Kuwaiti citizens, they do not have access to public education and have to pay for private education.
  6. With regard to our client specifically, we have managed to establish that not only is she a Bidoon but also that as a woman she has particular difficulties. Women in general face some severe social political challenges in Kuwait and Bidoon women especially. Those who are undocumented, face greater mistreatment. In Kuwait, male guardian’s control over women is absolute and such controlling treatment of women in the domestic spaces is also prevalent in Kuwaiti households. Therefore, women’s movements are very controlled and restricted and essentially a woman needs to have male guardianship in all her dealings. This is seen is Kuwaiti law where women who leave their homes without permission can be reported for absconding at local police stations by male guardians. Moreover, female Bidoons face additional forms of unfair treatment in legal and social circles, for example Bidoon women and girls are reported to face sexual harassment from Government officials when attempting to obtain documentation. Also, Bidoon women cannot claim their legal rights upon divorce such as custody of their children as the marriage is often unregistered by the authorities. If the marriage, for example, was between two undocumented Bidoons.
  7. Women who are experiencing gender discrimination will have difficulties to fight against it due to generalised lack of access to services, employment and equal rights and they are affected by the gender norms in Kuwait but in ways that often keep them at the very bottom of the social hierarchy with limited social, economic or legal ability to elevate themselves. Based on the country situation in Kuwait and based on the general information from international publications and our own country expert, we managed to conclude that our client is firstly an undocumented Bidoon and that she will not be able to obtain nationality, which means that she will continue being undocumented. Secondly, we managed to demonstrate that, given that she will not be entitled to residency within Kuwait, she will be coerced to confess to having another nationality which should incidentally revoke any means she has to gain documentation in Kuwait.
  8. We also asked the expert to examine what happens to women with no family protection in Kuwait and he confirmed that a woman with no family protection or assistance would be known as a lone woman and, as such, will face multiple obstacles in living a truly independent and free life. Family members assist in many ways such as to enable a woman to rent property or gain employment, to have access to health care and, given that she is an undocumented Bidoon, such services are already quite restricted. Lack of family would further cement her lack of access to such services. A lone woman in Kuwait is a very specific status given that women always rely on men’s assistance, for example housing providers do not rent or sell housing or property to women without the permission and signatures from male family members. The Peter Tatchell Foundation stated that women require signatures from male guardians to access certain medical treatments and that of course can harm women’s health. We concluded in winning this case on the basis that Bidoon residents face problems and restrictions and that she will not be able to return to Kuwait even if she wished to do so as the Government restrict the ability of many Bidoon residents to travel abroad by not issuing them a travel document and also, if a Bidoon was able to leave Kuwait, they would not be allowed to re-enter if they do not have an Article 17 travel document as they are unable to prove any other form of citizenship. In light of the above, it was unlikely that our client would be able to re-enter Kuwait as she did not have this Article 17 passport.