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The Case Of Stateless Arabs With Eritrean Passports

Ten years ago, in early 2001, the Eritrean Embassy in Kuwait advertised the availability of Eritrean passports.  The targeted group for the sales of passports were a sector of Kuwait residents known as Bedoun (Arabic for “without”) who do not have papers to prove their country of origin or citizenship.  Now, ten years later, many of these Bedoun are seeking renewal of their passports and the Eritrean regime is informing them that they will not be renewed beyond 2014.

The precarious situation of the Bedoun traces its origin to the establishment of the states of Saudi Arabia (1932), Jordan (1946) and Kuwait (1961) and the territorial delineation between the neighboring states. The nomadic Bedouns who were roaming the desert region found themselves in one country or another without their knowledge and missed the deadline for establishing citizenship in either of the newly-established states.

Trying to ascertain the citizenship of the Bedoun has remained controversial and intractable and compounding the issue has been the attempt by some to claim a Bedoun status.

Enter the Eritrean regime.  In early 2001, it advertised in Kuwaiti periodicals that it can offer the Bedoun Eritrean passports in exchange for Kuwaiti Dinar 2000 (USD $7,000). (Refer to February 23, 2001 Gedab News report.)  There was no documentation required: just money.  And since 2001, the Bedoun have been buying Eritrean passports.

The advertisements for passports were made in local newspapers as well as flyers pasted on lamp posts around the Eritrean embassy premises, then located at the Al Jabriya neighborhood of  Kuwait City.

In May of this year, Kuwaiti newspapers reported that the Eritrean government informed those who carry its passports that the documents will be cancelled by 2014 and that it will not renew expired passports after that date.

Distressed visitors to the Eritrean embassy in Kuwait are having their passports renewed until 2014 after signing a document declaring their knowledge of the decision that they cannot use the passports after the beginning 2014.

The Eritrean government has also informed Kuwait authorities about its decision and that it will not be responsible for the Bedoun who carry its passports beginning 2014.

The passports were first issued for five years; later, the government decided to limit the validity of the passports to three years before its recent decision to cancel them altogether by 2014.

The Bedoun who used Eritrean passports for travel and to request driving and other licenses will be stranded unless a solution is found for their predicament–something that is not likely to happen given its remaining unresolved for decades.

Meanwhile, Kuwait’s Independent Petroleum Group (IPG) had informed its shareholders sometime ago that it is taking the Eritrean regime and its Petroleum Corporation of Eritrea (PCE) to the Court Arbitration of London seeking a 19 million Kuwaiti dinars (USD 67 million) award for petroleum products delivered to Eritrea but not paid for.

Original Gedab News report follows:
ERITREAN CITIZENSHIP ON SALE: $7,000
Abu-Dhabi, UAE (Awate.com, February 23, 2001)

The selling of Eritrean passports to non-Eritreans is still underway. As of January 30, 2001, the number of Eritrean passports sold in Kuwait, has crossed the five hundred mark. The selling of Eritrean nationality began in April 2000 when in an advertisement, which appeared on Al Qabas Newspaper, an Arabic Kuwaiti daily, Kuwaiti brokers offered to sell nationality cards and passports for $13,000. Since then the price has gone down to about  $7,000

The targets of the sale and the clients of the passport  “Bdun”, which literally means the “without.” The indigenous bdun are descendants of nomads who freely roamed the deserts of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait before the boundaries of these states were demarcated and now find themselves without any nationality. The modern bdun are Arabs and others who entered Kuwait in search of a job and discarded their original papers to claim Kuwaiti citizenship.  Approximately 100,000 “Bduns” are estimated to live in Kuwait.

In another development, the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs is planning to appoint loyal “mass organization” (wahyo) activists from the Diaspora to various positions in its Embassies and Consulates around the world. So far, Naizghi Kiflu, the new Security chief who was recalled from his Ambassadorial position in Moscow to restructure the security apparatus, has presented several names for such appointments. The reorganization of Eritrea’s security apparatus includes setting up a new “internal security” division whose members are already in training in Beleza, a village nine Kilometers west of Asmara.

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