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Our problem is corruption – not the expats

Symposium on ‘Argument on Demographics’

KUWAIT: (From left) Ali Khaja, Dr Ghadeer Aseri, Dr Adel Al-Damkhi, Soad Al-Atiqi and Alia Al-Khalid are pictured during the symposium held at the Women Cultural and Social Society. — Photo by Joseph Shagra

KUWAIT: The Women Cultural Society held a symposium on the ‘Argument on Demographics’ at its premises in Khaldiya on Wednesday. The issue has been highlighted frequently in recent times, particularly by MPs and officials who blame expats for Kuwait’s problems and demand a decrease in the number living in the country.

Dr Ghadeer Aseri decried the hateful speech directed at expats recently. “Such hateful statements do not reflect the reality. Our problems are not caused by the expats, but by the corruption in public sector. We don’t need to rid the country of the expats; Kuwait was always a multicultural country, its population coming from different origins. So how can we become racists after 200 years?” she wondered.

According to her, the government is responsible for the hateful rhetoric. “The government spread the idea that expats are to blame for different problems such as employment, healthcare and others. In the past, it has also separated the community into sects, tribes, and living areas. I agree that certain jobs – state security, interior, military and other positions in the public sector – are limited to citizens, as is the case all over the world, but we don’t have to use this hateful dialogue,” added Aseri.
She proposed solutions. “The ‘visa businessmen’ help create the problem, along with public corruption and the government’s ban plans. The citizens make-up only 30% of the population, but we can solve part of the problem by replacing the ‘Kafeel’ (sponsorship) system with more decent system, or residency for expats. We need to spread tolerance for different nationalities, religions, and ideologies,” concluded Aseri.

MP Dr Adel Adel Al-Damkhi agreed that the expat problem should be solved without insulting the expats. “We criticize the hateful statements from Western countries against refugees, while we use similar terms against the expats. The visa businessmen bring the illegal laborers for fake companies, causing the huge number of marginal workers. These businessmen engage in this activity due to the wrong laws. All the ministers who came after the year 2000 are responsible for this problem, as they were giving exceptions,” he further said.

There are different solutions in healthcare. “Instead of making the Jaber Hospital available to citizens only, it should serve it’s area for both citizens and expats. Also it’s not logical to have all the Kuwaitis get treated in one hospital only. Instead of the discrimination, we can make all the services paid and provide the citizens medical insurance, while the constitution obliges the government to provide free healthcare for the citizens,” stressed Al-Damkhi.

Dr Alia Al-Khalid diagnosed the problem and gave solutions, providing statistics. “Citizens make 1.3 million of the population. Out of the 2.9 expats living here, 600 thousand are domestic laborers, while 810 thousand are marginal laborers for which we don’t have documents. 50 percent out of the 2 million expat workers have low degrees, 42 percent have medium degrees, and only 8 percent are university graduates,” she stated.

According to her, the problem of a prevailing number of expats has existed since the 1960s. Kuwaitis were 36% of the population in 1965, 30% in 1975, dropped to 27% in 1985, and then reached its highest percentage, 41%, in 1995 after the liberation. The biggest problems connected to the high number of expats are the complaints of traffic jam, crowded hospitals,  pressure on natural resources, and competition on public employment. 95% of employees in the private sector are expats. We should find solutions to employ Kuwaitis in the private sector,” she explained.

“The problem with visa businessmen exists as there is no strict law punishing this activity. According to the law, after five years the employees on governmental contract should leave the country, but in fact they don’t and become marginal workers. The only law applied to the visa businessmen who buy and sell these illegal employees is No 38/1964, which considers this act a misdemeanor, not even a crime. Also the offices of domestic labor have a black market practicing human trafficking. We hope that the new company set by the government will end this problem,” noted Al-Khalid.

Ali Khaja agued very logically that the expats are not the problem, as it is a matter of existing services rather than nationality. “If we replaced all the expats with citizens and the whole 4 million population only consisted of citizens, we would still need hospitals, water and electricity, houses and food. We can’t exist without expats in Kuwait; they are the ones building our houses and roads, producing electricity and water, fishing and breading, or we export the food from abroad,” he pointed out.
“100 years ago, there were only Kuwaitis here. They worked in all professions and this is where their family names came from. Since the oil boom, the Kuwaitis refuse to do ‘lower’ jobs, so we need expats. The invasion period in 1990 was an exception. So we can’t blame the expats. We should change our culture and way of thinking,” concluded Khaja.

By Nawara Fattahova

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