The stateless people, locally known as bedouns, have also been deprived of basic human rights like work and education, says the report titled, “Prisoners of the Past: Kuwaiti bedoun and the burden of Statelessness.”
Based on interviews with bedouns, lawyers, rights activists and others, the report describes how many stateless remain “vulnerable, without protection and live in poverty,” as wealthy Kuwait considers them “illegal residents.”
The government has denied them essential documentation, including birth, marriage, and death certificates, as well as access to free government schools and legal employment opportunities, said the report.
Bedouns staged protests in February and March to demand basic rights and citizenship, but their rallies were crushed by police leading to injuries and many arrests.
“The government responded to peaceful demonstrators with promises of reform, but it needs to go further and tackle their citizenship claims,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of the New York-based HRW.
Following the protests, the government has promised some new benefits, including birth, marriage, and death certificates, free health care, and improved access to jobs.
“If implemented, these would be positive steps,” said HRW. “But it would leave the root cause of their condition — their citizenship claims — unchanged,” the report said.
But many of the promised services have not been provided and they are not applicable to bedouns not registered with a government authority overseeing their affairs.
Umm Walid, a 43-year-old bedoun widow, said that she had no paperwork establishing her relationship to her deceased husband.
When “a bedoun dies, there is no death certificate, (so) there is no proof that I even had a husband,” she was cited as saying in the report.
“We don’t have (an) identity,” Basim A. told HRW. “(My son) was born without a birth certificate, (and died) without a death certificate.”
Bedouns claim the right to Kuwaiti citizenship, saying that their ancestors failed to register for citizenship when the government began registration about five decades ago.
The government however insists most bedouns have other citizenships that they or their forefathers deliberately destroyed them to avail of services and generous benefits provided to Kuwaiti nationals.
Based on statistics by the government, 34,000 bedouns qualify for consideration for citizenship, 42,000 have Iraqi citizenship, 26,000 have other nationality while 4,000 are unknown.
The results of the statistics were based on secret evidence obtained by the government and which it refuses to share, HRW said.
“Denying bedoun basic identification documents on the basis of secret evidence that they have other nationality is as arbitrary as it is unfair,” Whitson said.