ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In a hot dirt yard outside a police station in Kuwait, activists have set up camp. They spent nearly three weeks on hunger strike, asking the Kuwaiti government for citizenship, led by a 50-year-old computer engineer named Mohammad Bargash (ph).

 

MOHAMMAD BARGASH: (Speaking Arabic).

 

SHAPIRO: He says, "the government limits our right to an education, to health care, to an identity, to dignity."

Although Bargash has lived in Kuwait his whole life, he, his wife and seven children are officially stateless. The term is Bidoon, which means without.

 

BARGASH: (Speaking Arabic).

 

SHAPIRO: "The government is ignoring us," he says. "No one cares. No one is giving us a solution."

That's why he started his hunger strike, and other activists followed until there were six of them.

 

BARGASH: (Speaking Arabic).

 

SHAPIRO: He says it's a tragedy that Kuwait is a rich country that pretends it supports human rights. Kuwaiti citizens benefit from generous social spending made possible by the government's oil wealth. But there are an estimated 100,000 or more Bidoon people in Kuwait who cannot access those benefits. Many have lived in Kuwait their entire lives. Just today, Bargash had his first meeting with Kuwaiti political leaders, and he says he's putting the hunger strike on pause in hopes of a breakthrough.

Zahra Marwan supports this protest. She was born stateless, but her family managed to leave Kuwait when she was a child. She became a U.S. citizen and an illustrator and children's book author. One of those books tells her own story.

 

ZAHRA MARWAN: I was born stateless in Kuwait, in spite of my mom being a citizen. I was born stateless because my dad was born stateless because his dad didn't register in the 1940s.

 

SHAPIRO: You say his dad didn't register in the 1940s. We're going to need a bit of history here. Explain what happened.

 

MARWAN: Yeah. So three of my grandparents were Kuwaiti citizens, and only one wasn't. Citizenship was a new concept when it was introduced in Kuwait, and a lot of people didn't really see the importance of it since migration was so fluid. Both of my parents' families are from a larger historic migration of Southwest Iranians who went into the Arab Gulf in the early 1900s to work as sea laborers. So both sides of my families are from the same exact background, community and historic neighborhood, yet my mom's family are officially Kuwaiti, and my dad's undefined.

 

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