Stateless Kuwait student’s suicide attempt leads to outcry in Gulf state

Stateless Kuwait student’s suicide attempt leads to outcry in Gulf state
The attempted suicide of a medical student from Kuwait’s persecuted Bidoon, who are denied citizenship, has led to anger on social media about the government’s treatment of the stateless community.
3 min read
24 June, 2020
The Bidoon have demanded the right to Kuwaiti citizenship for many years [AFP]

A suicide attempt by a member of Kuwait's stateless Bidoon community has sparked anger in the Gulf state and put the spotlight back on the mistreatment of the long-persecuted community.

Several Arabic news sites, including Arabi 21, reported that the medical student, who was not named, attempted a fatal overdose of medicines on Monday in the Sulaibiya area, south of Kuwait City.

He was taken to an intensive care ward of a local hospital and is in a serious condition.

According to the Kuwaiti government, approximately 100,000 Bidoon - whose name literally translates as "without" - live in Kuwait, where they suffer severe and systematic discrimination. However, other estimates suggest there could be as many as 225,000 Bidoon in the country.

The Kuwaiti government claims that they, or their ancestors, came to Kuwait illegally but the Bidoon say that they are indigenous to the Gulf state.

The Bidoon often lived in remote rural areas when Kuwait gained its independence from the UK in 1961 and were unable to register for citizenship.

Activists claim they have been denied the right to citizenship and other civil rights ever since, and many of them are also refused healthcare, education, and employment. Many Bidoon are illiterate or have chronic, easily treatable conditions like asthma which they have never received medical attention for, they say.

Some have left Kuwait due to high levels of discrimination they experience, and make up a significant proportion of the refugees living in overcrowded camps in Greece.

Following the attempted suicide of the medical student, activists took to Twitter to highlight the persecution of the Bidoon. The Arabic hashtag #انتحار_طالب_طب_بدون (#Suicide_of_Bidoon_medical_student) became the most widely used hashtag in Kuwait over the past three days, with social media users tweeting in both Arabic and English to decry the government's alleged persecution of the Bidoon.

Read also: Detained Kuwaiti transgender woman released after social media backlash

The Arabic-language news site Arabi21 reported that at least three Bidoon committed suicide in 2019, which it says is due to persecution they have suffered.

Twitter user Khalid Al-Ewairdi described the government’s policy to the Bidoon in this way: "You can’t work, or marry, or travel, but please don’t commit suicide so you don’t embarrass us."

The Kuwaiti government said that the student had underlying psychological problems but Twitter users angrily rejected the suggestion. Saoud Safar said that the Kuwaiti government would try to present the student as a mentally ill person or an addict "in order to cover up their oppression and inhuman ill-treatment of the Bidoon".

Safar even predicted that state TV presenters would end up saying "everything is alright and the emergency services did their job well".

Other Twitter users used the phrase "Bidoon Lives Matter" and compared the case to the killing of George Floyd in the US.

Kuwaiti parliamentarian Mohammed Hayef Al-Mutairi said that the government’s refusal to grant the Bidoon civil rights had led to "unprecedented catastrophic conditions" with people living below the povery line and increasing cases of psychological and physical illness.

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