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Deprivation of nationality in Saudi Arabia: a quarter of a million people, and a suffering for nearly half a century

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Today, nearly 250 thousand inhabitants reside in Saudi Arabia without nationalities, and as a result, they are suffering from various forms of deprivation and complexity, where the fundamental rights in the contemporary world have become related to the nature of the legal status which takes several forms from one country to another.

The most significant form is that individuals exist as citizens holding nationalities, residents for a specific duration for the purpose of studying, working, or otherwise, or as refugees, thus enabling them – as a next step – to achieve human, civil and political rights, pursuant to the laws in force.

The “stateless” in Saudi Arabia have submitted many complaints to various parties. The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) declared that it has received 2847 cases over 10 years, from 2004 to 2014. However, it is notable that their situations are getting worse and more complex and the promises made by some officials to “follow up, address and solve” the issue have not been reflected yet on a quarter of a million people, whose destiny is getting more ambiguous. In 2009, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees declared that the number of Bidoon in Saudi Arabia is 70 thousand people, while in November 2015, local newspapers pointed out that they are 250 thousand people.

The Civil Status Agency is studying their status through presenting new facilities and giving them cards with wide powers, without indicating to encouraging initiatives for granting them nationalities. According to testimonies received by the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), the Saudi Ministry of Interior divides the Bidoon into four groups:

·         “Four Tribes” group: They are Anza, Shammar, Otaibah and Bani Khalid tribes. The suffering of many of them ended after the issuance of several decrees related to naturalization, and a part of these tribes are still stateless until now.

·         “Allied Tribes” group: They are tribes related to Qahtan tribe, and have allied with Anza, Shammar, Bani Khalid, and al-Asaida tribes hundred years ago and mingled with them through intermarriage and kinship. They were ignored when the decree of naturalization was issued and none of them obtained the nationality in which so far, the granted naturalization was limited to the Four Tribes.

·         “Expired Cards” group: Some of them have been working outside the country in the Gulf States and they were late to renew their cards, while others refused to renew them hoping to obtain nationalities through a procedure which was taking effect at the Civil Status Department apart from the Bidoon issue. When the procedure was performed, they were not allowed to renew their cards and their official documents have expired since April 16, 1998.

·         “Birth Certificates” group: They are the only Bidoon who do not have computer-generated numbers which are considered as national numbers. They have only identification certificates from the Civil Status containing the name and photograph of the person. This deprives them of all governmental and national services, because all services need a national number. Their situation is the worst and they are suffering the most.

The Beginning of the Suffering

The Bidoon case started during the seventies of the last century, where there were tribes moving on the borders to and from the neighboring countries and did not seek to obtain the nationality.

In 1979, the Saudi Authorities issued temporary cards binding their holders to stay in Hafr al-Batin province and preventing them from moving more than 60 kilometers far from it.

This document should be authenticated by the chief (Sheikh) of the tribe, but it was exclusive to the four tribes: Anza, Shammar, Otaibah and Bani Khalid. This document was primarily issued in the form of A4 paper size. In the second issuance it was converted in the form of a two-sided card, bearing on the front side the photograph of the head of family and on the back side the names and a photograph for the whole family.

Its validity lasts for five years, to be renewed for another five years. Some chiefs of tribes used to exploit the (Bidoon) at the time of renewal and take from them illegitimate amounts of money to renew their documents, although this job was entrusted to them by the authorities and they receive wages for it.

The Bidoon of the (Four tribes and the Allied Tribes) have numbers of passports which include the date of issuance and the expiry date, but without passports. The official parties have also registered for all the Bidoons numbers of passports in their files while the Bidoon do not know that they have numbers of passports, since they were not allowed to have access to their files or get to know what is written down on them according to instructions preventing them from that.

They are also required to submit “fingerprints” on papers without access to their contents or knowing the data or information written about them.

In comparison between foreign residents in Saudi Arabia and the Bidoon, it is clear that the Bidoon have less fortune, since in Saudi Arabia there is a law for granting nationalities to the foreigners in accordance with clear conditions and regulations, regardless of their easiness or difficulty and regardless of the quality of the law enforcement on the ground. Therefore, the Bidoon do not have any law or similar mechanism and the fate of their nationality is unknown and ambiguous. On June 19, 2001, an Order no. 24924 was issued allowing any of the Bidoon having wrong information in name, tribe or surname to amend it.

All Bidoon tribes, as well as the Allied Tribes got benefit of it and by virtue of this Order many data were corrected. However, later the “Allied Tribes” group was unable to get benefit of an Order which has been issued nearly in 2002 for granting the Bidoon nationalities, claiming that the one who has amended his data has committed an action which was considered later as (fraud).

Consequently, he was totally deprived of getting benefit of the nationality law, whereas, this was not applied on Bidoon of the Four Tribes group who have amended their data also.

This procedure was described by the Allied Tribes group as an unjustified bias. The law of granting nationality to the Bidoon of the Four Tribes group lasted about four years until it was suspended nearly in 2006, claiming that the applicants committed fraudulence when correcting their data by virtue of Order no. 24924. Accordingly, a collective punishment was imposed on the rest, while if there were forgery cases, the innocents who are not guilty should not be punished.

Stopping naturalization was not officially announced in 2006, but insiders say that the Order to stop naturalization was issued in the form of a secret and immediate Order by the Ministry of Interior, according to what some officials in the Civil Status Departments reported.

Even the procedures which were in the process of granting the Saudi nationality were stopped. Until today, no one of the (allied tribes) was naturalized and the official committees consider that each one who has amended his data under the Order 24924 as a forger.

The committees openly state that the order of naturalization is limited to the four tribes only. The insiders also say that this is due to the racial discrimination of the official parties toward the allied tribes in the official departments. The committees also say that that the “Allied Tribes” and the “Four Tribes” are considered “outcasts” and do not belong in origin to the Arabian Peninsula, and therefore they are not worthy of nationality.

However, other viewpoints confirm the authenticity of the affiliation of these tribes. The Saudi Arabian Citizenship System, which is confined to foreigners without the Bidooon, discriminates between (the Bidoon woman and man). This system grants the Bidoon woman nationality if she got married to a Saudi man, whereas if a Bidoon man got married to a Saudi woman he will not be given any legal privilege qualifying him to obtain nationality.

Besides, the children can obtain nationality if their father is Saudi and their mother is from Bidoon in origin, but if their mother is a Saudi woman and their father is a Bidoon, they will be deprived of citizenship.

Informed sources affirmed to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights that the Bidoon file was invested in political aspects since Saudi Arabia has facilitated the travel of some Bidoon people to Bahrain although they originally do not have passports, and then they got the Bahraini nationality for purposes related to demographic and religious change in Bahrain as well as to political objectives.

In 2015, the validity of all the “Bidoon” documents expired and each one who wants to renew his documents became forced to sign a pledge to bring a document from another country indicating his ties to a lineage or the like outside Saudi Arabia, before the end of the new five years in 2020, which raises concerns about their future. On February 9, 2015, the National Society for Human Rights said that: (the speed of these government procedures is too slow and more decisive action is needed). The file is still pending at the Ministry of Interior, and 250 thousand people inside Saudi Arabia are still suffering because of depriving them of their nationalities, and this suffering extends to all aspects of their life, including:

·         Public jobs: The Bidoon are prevented from working in the governmental sector. Many of them are not allowed to work in the private sector, as they are sometimes forced to accept work conditions like forced labor and slavery work, or to sell drugs in exchange for small amounts of money where drug traders exploit them due to their difficult material circumstances as a result of their legal status. Some employers exert pressures on them since they already know that they are in need of the job and fear that they might lose it. Besides, many companies now refuse to employ any person without identification documents. The Bidoon who have not signed the pledge required for the renewal of the documents and which took force in 2015 cannot get a job for they do not have renewed documents, therefore, some may be forced to sign the pledge.

Although they are deemed among the decent of (Saudificatoon), yet they are not treated like Saudi citizens. For instance, the Bidoon person is not entitled to be a delegate of a company at the governmental agencies, open a bank account, or follow-up the company’s business at the Ministry of Labour, the General Directorate of Passports, social insurance agencies and commercial departments and the like, whatever his post, the value of his certificate or the field of his specialization are important. The group of the “Expired Cards” and the group of the “Birth Certificates” are not able to practice regular work, so they engage in irregular works such as fruits and vegetables selling on the roadsides or work as unlicensed taxi drivers. They are subject to arrest and questioning.

·         Marriage: As for the procedures of registration of marriage from a Bidoon person, it would require the approval of the Ministry of Interior and in case the approval is obtained, the procedures shall be transferred to the courts for the confirmation of marriage, while Saudi citizens are only required to register the marriage legitimately by any authorized official (Maa’zon) without the need to obtain the approval of the Ministry of Interior. Knowing that the Interior complicates most of the marriage requests from the Bidoon, on the other side, it facilitates the marriage when the Saudi party whether man or woman is old, ill or incapable of getting married to a Saudi man or woman. In this case, the approval is made easy, which is considered a flagrant exploitation to the bad circumstance experienced by the Bidoon and an increase to their suffering due to depriving them of nationality.

·         Heath and education: The newborn Bidoons of those having valid cards can be registered whether they are from the Allied Tribes or from the Four Tribes, whereas, those having expired documents and birth certificates would not be registered, instead they would get a paper for the mayor of the district. Some documents might be stamped by the police station after being issued by the mayor. Some Bidoon do not have any documents. The Bidoon also face difficulty to enroll education system and undergo some examinations which require a computer-generated number such as the achievement test and the test of capacity.

·         Ownership: The Bidoon person is not entitled to own a property, invest or engage in any commercial activity. He works in his country as an employee only since the regime prohibits granting him any permit to carry out any commercial activity, however simple it is. In addition to depriving him of many services, the one whom the validity of his documents has expired or who has no civil registry number cannot open a bank account, cash a check, reside in hotels or furnished departments, or rent a car.

The continuation of the Bidoon crisis represents an evidence on the ongoing violations practiced by local and international systems accredited in Saudi Arabia, where the Basic Law of Governance is on its top, in which Article 10 stipulates that: (The state will aspire to strengthen family ties, maintain its Arab and Islamic values and care for all its members, and to provide the right conditions for the growth of their resources and capabilities.

Article 26: (The state protects human rights in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah). On the International Law level, the countries can determine the issue of nationality, where the international Court of Justice recognized the rights of states to maintain freedom of legislating the citizenship laws on condition that the rights of individuals to achieve their civil and political rights should be preserved, as guaranteed by many laws and regulations:

·         The first paragraph (1) of Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone has the right to a nationality.

·         Article 24 of the Covenant Civil and Political Rights that every child has the right to acquire a nationality.

·         Article 29 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights also states that everyone has the right to a nationality.

Over many years, the Bidoon tried to find solutions to end their suffering, where they sent individual telegraphs to the responsible parties.

The chiefs of tribes also sent messages to the Ministry of Interior and to the King, in addition to a series of appeals through various media, but these attempts did not end their aggravated suffering.

ESOHR considers that the suffering of Bidoon in Saudi Arabia involves many transgressions, violations and racial discrimination and needs radical, immediate and just solutions comprising all Bidoon groups without any discrimination, in accordance with the norms and international conventions and treaties and based on the human being’s right to obtain nationality by which he can guarantee a legal status which makes him qualified to his political, civil, educational, economic and social rights.

Not solving the Bidoon issue will aggravate the problem day after day, and will increase the complexities in the light of an increasing population in Saudi Arabia at a rate of 2.6 based on 2014 Census.

This means that over five years, their number would be increased from 250 thousand to 285 thousand people. Not taking positive measures to solve this issue indicates to an administrative and developmental deficit which the Saudi Authorities is responsible for.

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