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Immigrants are fighting for vaccines in Kuwait, citizens come first

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – In Kuwait’s small, oil-rich sheikhdom, foreigners running the country’s economy and serving 70 percent of its population are struggling to get coronavirus vaccines.

Unlike other Gulf Arab states, which have given quotas to foreign workers in the race for herd immunity, Kuwait has come under fire primarily for vaccinating its own people.

This leaves legionnaires from Asia, Africa, and elsewhere cleaning the homes of Kuwaiti citizens, caring for their children, driving their cars and bags, and still waiting for their first doses to carry the burden of the epidemic.

“The only people I saw at the vaccination center were Kuwait,” said a 27-year-old Kuwaiti doctor who, like most people interviewed for the story, spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation. “Kuwait pursues the first policy for its citizens in everything, including when it comes to public health.”

Kuwaiti authorities have not responded to repeated requests for comment from the Associated Press on their vaccination strategy.

When the Kuwait vaccine registration website was launched in December, the authorities announced that health workers, the elderly and those with basic needs would be at the forefront. The weeks passed, but it became increasingly clear that the lion’s share of the doses fell on Kuwait, regardless of their age or health. Initially, some immigrant health workers said they could not even get appointments.

Kuwait’s labor system, which links migrants’ residency status to their jobs and empowers employers, is prevalent in the Gulf Arab states. In Kuwait, however, hostility to migrants has intensified. The legacy of the 1991 Gulf War, which led to the mass deportation of Palestinian and Jordanian Yemeni workers whose leaders backed the Iraq conflict, has heightened concerns in Kuwait today, even as workers in South East Asia rush to evacuate. :

A 30-year-old Indian woman who has spent her entire life in Kuwait watched as her Instagram account was flooded with cluttered teen photos of Kuwaiti teenagers. His father, a 62-year-old diabetic with high blood pressure, could not, like other relatives living there.

“All Kuwaitis I know are vaccinated,” he said. “It’s more than just anger, it’s the realization that no, this is not great, there is no way you can feel that I am here.”

Kuwait has vaccinated its citizens six times more than non-citizens, the Ministry of Health said earlier this year. At the time, although some 238,000 foreigners registered to make online appointments, only 18,000 of them, mostly doctors, nurses, and well-connected employees of state oil companies, were actually called in for vaccinations. Meanwhile, about 119,000 Kuwaitis have been vaccinated.

Vaccine information is only available in English or Arabic, and lawyers say they are closing down a number of low-wage workers in Southeast Asia who do not speak any language.

The discrepancy started heated discussions on social networks, users complained about the latest case of xenophobia in Kuwait. They say the epidemic has increased migrant workers’ dissatisfaction, deepened social divisions, and strengthened the government’s determination to protect its own people first. Medical experts have warned that Kuwait’s vaccination hierarchy is detrimental to public health.

Compared to the United Arab Emirates և Bahrain, one of the fastest vaccines in the world per capita, Kuwait’s engine lags behind. While foreigners wait for the shooting, medics say Kuwaiti citizens are reluctant to register because of conspiracy theories of socially ordered vaccines. Infections have risen, prompting the government to impose a strict night curfew last month.

By putting pressure on the Ministry of Health, the obstacles have eased in recent weeks. A growing number of foreigners, aged 65 and over, say they have been vaccinated. Most emigrants still claim that entry inequality continues to plague.

“We are waiting for the call,” said a 55-year-old housewife from Sri Lanka. “As soon as I call, I will leave. “I need the vaccine to be safe.”

The government did not publish the demographic distribution of vaccinated foreigners in Kuwait after the outbreak of inequality erupted in mid-February, only general vaccine statistics. As of this week, 500,000 people have received at least one dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca, according to health officials.

Even when most frontline workers in grocery stores and cafes are still not vaccinated, Kuwait is developing vaccine programs to reopen the public. Those who will be able to prove that they received the blow will be able to go to school in the fall, go to the cinema in the spring, and quarantine after flying to the country.

Kuwaiti foreign workers have also experienced this disappointment in the past. When the epidemic first began, lawmakers, talk show hosts, and famous actresses accused migrants of spreading the virus.

When the coronavirus spread to crowded neighborhoods and dormitories where many foreigners live, authorities imposed targeted blockades, announcing cases of virus exaggeration due to ethnicity. As the number of infections among the population of Kuwait increased, the government stopped publishing demographic data.

“It’s easy for migrants to grasp the root of all the problems in Kuwait,” said Rohan Adwani, a sociology researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Citizens have no political or economic power, so when they do not like what is happening to their country, blaming foreigners becomes the main way out.”

Despite having an open parliament, ultimate power in Kuwait remains with the ruling emir. Kuwaiti citizens, who are guaranteed public wage benefits by the state of the cradle grave, are increasingly criticized for their policies of restricting the flow of migrants.

Earlier this year, the government banned visa extensions for more than 60 non-college scholarship migrants, effectively deporting some 70,000 people, including many who have lived in Kuwait for decades.

“This discrimination is not new to us. The epidemic only exacerbated the worst, ”said a 30-year-old Lebanese woman who grew up in Kuwait and whose elderly relatives are still waiting for vaccines.

“But this is life and death,” he said. “I never really thought he would get to this point.”

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