After years of pressure from students and faculty members, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Higher Education has agreed to cancel the nationality clause in university certificates, including those of stateless students.
This month’s decision should make it easier for those known as “Bedoon,” who reside in Kuwait but do not have Kuwaiti or any other nation’s citizenship, to complete their academic study and also improve their job prospects.
Certificates issued to Bedoon students implied that they were either illegal residents or had fake or other nationalities, and were “neither academic nor ethical,” Abdul-Rahman Al-Hamli, president of the Kuwait University Students’ Union, said in a phone call.
Bedoon means “without” in Arabic and is used idiomatically for “without nationality.” More than 100,000 long-term residents of Kuwait fall into this category, most of them descendants of nomadic Bedouins. The government, however, says they are foreigners who got rid of their identity papers to take advantage of the privileges of Kuwaiti citizens. They are often accused of political disloyalty and described as subversive. (See a related article, “Kuwait’s Stateless Residents Struggle For Education.”)
After completing their high school studies, Kuwait’s stateless students face a dilemma. The agency responsible for the Bedoon community requires them to sign documents showing they belong to other countries. If they do so, they have no hope of obtaining Kuwaiti nationality. As foreigners, they must pay high university fees.
Some outstanding Bedoon students have obtained scholarships that enable them complete their higher education. But if they obtain certificates saying they are stateless, it negatively affects their chances of finding work. (See a related article, “A Stateless Poet Finds Her Home and Identity in Literature.”)
“Every student has the right to obtain his/her university degree without compromises and without conditions and restrictions. This is a long overdue decision.”Dhuha Salem
A stateless student
Al-Hamli estimates that the graduation certificates of 19 Bedoon students mention nationalities other than Kuwait, while there are currently around 400 to 500 stateless students at universities. Their number is declining, however, as only 25 stateless students were admitted to Kuwait University last year.
Renewed Hope and Support
Al-Hamli, a member of the University Council, believes that removing the nationality clause will help solve the employment problems of stateless students. It will also show them that they are not a forgotten group in the university and that there is an elected student body that defends their rights.
Last year, the Kuwait University Students’ Union asked the then Minister of Higher Education to remove the nationality clause, partly to make it easier for them to pursue their studies in countries which until now refused to accept their academic credentials.
Dhuha Salem is a stateless student who managed to travel to Qatar to study for a master’s degree in linguistics despite a certificate describing her an “illegal resident.”
“Every student has the right to obtain his/her university degree without compromises and without conditions and restrictions,” Salem said in a phone call. “This is a long overdue decision.”
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About 150 professors at Kuwait University supported the demand to cancel the nationality clause in various ways including a petition campaign.
In a phone call, Layla Saud Al-Khayyat, of the university’s education faculty, said the Central Agency for Information Technology, a public institution established in 2010 to resolve stateless problems in Kuwait, “compelled” the university to register nationality on student certificates.
However, Fayiz Al-Dhafeeri, acting director of Kuwait University, said in news releases that the university merely issued certificates that had been completed in advance by the Central Agency for Illegal Residents.
Fayez Al-Fayez, a Kuwaiti human rights activist and a prominent defender of the Bedoon, believes that the impact of the decision to scrap the nationality clause will be “negligible.”
In a phone call, he noted that the top 100 university places in Kuwait were limited to specific majors and that “not all of these … meet the aspirations of stateless students.”
“Referring to us with false nationalities or as ‘illegal residents’ in university degrees increases our social isolation due to repetitive, annoying questions and being perceived by some with pity.”Dh. A.
A stateless medical graduate from a Kuwaiti public university
Most students choose a major corresponding to the career they wish to pursue, but Bedoon are only accepted in majors not preferred by Kuwaitis or those that suffer from a severe shortage, such as nursing and education.
Dh. A., a stateless medical graduate from a Kuwaiti public university, said her specialization was delayed for a year after she refused to accept a degree certificate identifying her as a Liberian national.
“Referring to us with false nationalities or as ‘illegal residents’ in university degrees increases our social isolation due to repetitive, annoying questions and being perceived by some with pity,” she said.
Although she is happy with the decision to remove the nationality clause, the university administration informed her that it is only a decision and has not been implemented yet.
Al-Khayyat described students’ reactions to government policies as “a time bomb within society which may explode at any time.” She called for “new approaches that contribute to reducing their marginalization and meeting their aspirations for a decent life.”