Nomadic Saudi Arabians 'Do Not Officially Exist'

Saudi Arabia is host to 70,000 stateless people called “bidoons” who were born in the country, but cannot register marriages or open a bank account. Bidoons came from nomadic tribes that had traveled around the Middle East, and then were locked into the countries where they existed at the time of the formation of the Arab States.

Bidoons have no rights or identification cards from the state, as they never registered with their host countries. This prevents them from marrying, owning property, or opening bank accounts.

Saudi rights activist Walid Abulkheir said the situation for the biddoons is “chronic… they live in miserable conditions, and life is very difficult for them… (they) made a mistake by not registering with authorities, due to being on the move.” He added that the stateless biddoons include naturalized Yemenis who lost their Saudi passports after Yemen took Iraq’s side after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. One Yemeni biddoon fruit seller burned himself alive in May after Saudi officials seized his property and said he did not have a permit.

Some of the stateless were given a black identity card which they have to renew every five years in Hafr el-Batin, in the northeast, but as legal consultant Ahmed al-Anzi, said, “Anyone forgetting to renew the card faces a lot of problems.” Al-Anzi said the technology might not help because the lack of the card leaves the stateless person as someone who “does not officially exist.”

Even for those who have a card, they are not allowed to own more than one car or own property. Another problem is that renewing the black card can take months, during which bank accounts can be closed.

Kuwait has more than 106,000 bidoons; the United Arab Emirates has roughly 10,000.