Of Bedouins and Bedoons: Stateless People in Kuwait

I ran across the term "Bedoon" while reading the morning Kuwait Times newspaper a few days ago.  I assumed that it was another term for Bedouin.  I was wrong.  It refers to another group of people who, while residing in Kuwait, do not share Kuwaiti citizenship even though they claim to be Kuwaitis.

The population of Kuwait is estimated anywhere from 3 to 5 million.  Of these, there are only 1 million recognized Kuwaitis.  The government would know that since it pays out an oil stipend to its citizens.  The majority of the residents in this country are foreign workers, mainly Indians and Pakistanis, but most all countries are represented here performing jobs in the service and construction industries.  Kuwait requires any foreign worker to be sponsored by one if its entities, KRH being one.  These sponsorship companies recruit foreign workers, pay them, hold their passports so they cannot slip away, and repatriate them when they are terminated or their contract expires.

Bedouins and Bedoons fall into another category.  Bedouins, of course, are recognized to be stateless people by all of the countries in the region.  They're nomads, and they are allowed to roam across borders but stay mainly to the interior areas of the desert.  Bedoons are not nomads.  Depending upon whom you ask, Bedoons are either true Kuwaitis who have been nationalized by other countries and have returned home, or they're interlopers who have renounced their citizenship in other countries, have migrated to Kuwait, and have no passport from any country -- thus stateless.

Bedoons number about 100,000.  It's not a terribly large number but enough to concern international committees working human rights issues.  Kuwaitis generally despise and distrust them.  Most of the Bedoons are southern Iraqi and Iranian, thus Shia, and are not welcome in the Sunni world of Kuwait.  Bedoons are not afforded any of the privileges of Kuwaiti citizens and are discriminated against for jobs and advancement.  Some, however, have managed to befriend members of Kuwait's Parliament and have been naturalized.  This door, having been opened, may not be closed easily.  The debate rages on in the Op Ed sections of the local newspapers.