Stateless residents wait for their security cards issued by the Central Agency for Remedying Illegal Residents Status in Ardiya, Kuwait on 27 September 2021. REUTERS Stephanie McGehee REUTERS:
KUWAIT, Oct 14 Reuters - Frontline worker Ahmad al Enezi, a member of Kuwait's stateless community, has spent the last 14 months lost in a bureaucratic maze after his bank account was suspended, freezing access to his salary and savings in the middle of the COVID - 19 pandemic.
Enezi's predicament has its origins in a push by the Gulf country to determine the status of its stateless residents, in the latest chapter of what its critics see as an enduring human rights abuse.
Enezi and his family are among tens of thousands of people known as bedoun - from the Kuwaiti bedoun juinsiyya - meaning without Nationality which have been fighting for decades to gain Arab citizenship.
Similar communities exist in some other Gulf states, which, like Kuwait, offer a generous cradle to grave welfare system to citizens but not to people deemed stateless.
Kuwait says most of its stateless people are migrants from illegal countries who hide their nationalities and classify them as immigrants.
Authorities have intensified pressure on the community over the last two years to reveal their country of origin or accept an assigned citizenship based on investigations by Kuwaiti state security services.
The campaign coincides with economic strains on state finances following a period of low oil prices and an economic slowdown caused by COVID -- 19 Pandemic. Enizi Bank is demanding valid identification and Iraqi authorities are refusing to renew his residency card unless Enezi, 26, accepts to be identified as an Iraqi citizen.
I wish I was Iraqi at least expatriates, lives in Kuwait are better than ours, Enezi, a civil servant in the Sulaibiya hospital, told Reuters, referring to lesser rights of stateless people in Kuwait.
Nobody can live without their salary, he said, speaking in his parent's home with metal sheet roof in one of the richest neighbourhoods in the poor oil producer.
They won't renew my card because they say I am an Iraqi national, Enezi said.
His father Kamel told Reuters that he was born in Kuwait and Enezi's paternal grandfather was present in 1934 before Kuwait gave independence to Britain in 1961.
The Bedoun are descendants of modern Bedouin tribes that roamed freely with their herde and fell through cracks when nomadic Gulf states formed for centuries.
Official government data says that at least 85,000 bedoun people live in Kuwait but activists say the number could be as high as 200,000. Many immigrants did not apply for citizenship in the 1960 s because they were illiterate or could not produce documents, or did not know how important citizenship would become.
International rights group say their status is a barrier to obtaining civil documentation and social services and impairs rights in health, marriage, education and work.
No official data is publicly available on the exact number of bedoun whose bank accounts have been frozen over identification issues, but local media have said they include government employees, military staff and private sector workers.
The numbers of those who lodged complaints are the hundreds only, said Tarik Albaijan, an official in Kuwait's Central Agency For Remedying Illegal Residents' Status, which handles bedoun affairs.
We are cooperating with the banks and others involving the private sector on this, he told Reuters, adding that the government was handling this case-by-case basis.
Several Kuwaiti newspapers earlier this year said the defence minister instructed that bedoun soldiers receive their salaries for humanitarian considerations Ebtihal al-Khateeb, an academic in Kuwait University, said many bedoun refused to accept new identification documents with nationalities assigned by government authorities.
The government wants to change the Bedoun's issue to an illegal residents problem. The result is this kind of blackmail which leads to complete suspension of their lives, Khateeb said.
Asked why nationalities were being assigned to bedoun who insist they are Kuwaitis, Albaijan said that it was based on investigations by authorities, including intelligence services.
He says those findings are inserted into the government system and establish a basis for dealing with individual cases.
In the poor Al-Sulaibiya neighbourhood where Enezi lives, Kuwaiti flags fluttered over small houses where hundreds of family bedoun have lived in the last decades. Dozens of American SUVs were parked in potholed streets.
Another bedoun in the area who would only be identified as Abu Jaber said lost access to his bank account.
Why is the bank about asking me to provide something that is impossible valid ID he said, panicked. Since then, we have been faced with a financial setback.