Fierce debate among the public, in the media and on online social media platforms, have arisen following calls by some lawmakers to drastically cull the number of expatriates in the country. Following cursory statements against expatriates by some parliamentarians, the public space has been riven with comments by those who support a quick and dramatic reduction of the number of expatriates in the country and those who favor a more tempered approach.
With the recent election of parliamentarians who more often than not speak to their constituencies from the podium of parliament, the National Assembly has been the venue for airing several popular but controversial issues. The topic of the high numbers of expatriates in Kuwait has been raked up quite aggressively with several lawmakers repeatedly highlighting the need to address the demographic imbalance in Kuwait, where 70 percent of the total population of around 4.4 million are foreigners.
Last week, Safa Al Hashem, the lone female lawmaker in parliament painted a drastic picture of expatriates and outlined what the state should do to reduce the number of foreigners in the country. She called for making expatriates pay heavy taxes for using services rendered by the state. “Foreigners are recruited to meet the shortfall in jobs that locals cannot fill, except in Kuwait where expats are hired to block citizens from taking up jobs,” she said.
“We need to impose taxes on expatriates in the context of limiting their numbers. There are taxes and even high fees in every Arab country. Taxes should be imposed in return for the services the country is providing for the huge numbers of foreigners that have compounded the terrible imbalance of demographics in Kuwait,” she was quoted by local media as having said.
The government should charge foreigners for using electricity, water and should make them pay all kinds of taxes, she added, arguing that “these actions constitute a way to resolve imbalances in the demographics of Kuwait.” Al Hashem called on the government to act without delay and rejected the statement by the labor and social development minister that solving the issue of the high numbers of expatriates needed at least 15 years.
However, while the reaction to Al Hashem’s statements was rather muted, Kuwaiti social media platforms went into overdrive after MP Abdul Karim Al Kandari said that public action was urgently needed to deal with the “settlement” of foreigners in Kuwait. “What is happening is settlement,” he argued.
Although the lawmaker, who sought a special debate in parliament on foreigners, said Kuwaitis were not against expatriates and considered them as their dear brothers who assisted them in building the nation, the reference to them as “colonists” provoked an outcry in the community.
“It is wrong to refer to expatriates as settlers and solutions to the demographic imbalance should be found without accusing foreigners or abusing them by lawmakers to achieve political mileage,” social and religious scholars were quoted as saying in the media and online.
“Such labels are likely to increase tension and hatred between citizens and expatriates, and Kuwait does not want either since it is the state of humanity and its Amir is a decorated global humanitarian leader. Statements should not be inconsistent with Kuwait’s constitution or with the international conventions and should at the same time take into account the interests of the citizens,” they added.
Meanwhile, real estate agents and investors warned against making scathing statements against foreigners or imposing various taxes on them and hiking their living costs. “If the latest statements about expatriates materialize, we will have a grave issue since 90 percent of the flats in Kuwait are rented by foreigners,” said Abdul Rahman Al Habib, the head of the real estate agents union.
On Sunday, a health official observed that the health ministry simply cannot do away with the expatriates working in the health sector, and that includes doctors, nurses, technicians as well as administrators and accountants and legal experts. The official pointedly added that Kuwaitis represent only six percent of the 22,000 nurses — male or female — working in the country.