Expatriates struggle to get vaccines in Kuwait, citizens rank first

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Kuwait’s small oil-rich emirates support the country’s economy, serve society, and foreigners, who make up 70% of the population, struggle to get the coronavirus vaccine. I will.

Unlike other Gulf Arab countries that dosed the masses of foreign workers in the race to reach herd immunity, Kuwait was accused of first vaccination of its own people.

So, despite cleaning Kuwaiti national homes, caring for children, driving cars, bagging groceries, and being struck by a pandemic, they are still waiting for their first dose. An army of workers from Asia, Africa, etc. remains.

“I saw only Kuwait at the vaccination center,” said a 27-year-old Kuwaiti doctor who spoke anonymously for fear of government retaliation, like most of the people interviewed in this story. Said. -The first policy for everything, including public health. “

Kuwaiti officials did not respond to repeated requests from the Associated Press to comment on vaccination strategies.

When Kuwait’s vaccination registration site went live in December, authorities declared that healthcare workers, the elderly, and people with underlying illness would be the first to line up. However, over the course of several weeks, it became increasingly clear that most doses went to Kuwait, regardless of age or health. Initially, some healthcare professionals stationed overseas said they couldn’t even make a reservation.

Kuwait’s labor system, which links immigrant status of residence to their jobs and empowers employers, is widespread throughout the Gulf Arab countries. However, hostility to immigrants has long been burning hotter in Kuwait. The legacy of the 1991 Gulf War has caused mass repatriation of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Yemeni workers who have helped Iraq in conflict, and Southeast Asian workers rush to fill the gap.

A 30-year-old Indian woman who spent her life in Kuwait saw her Instagram feed filled with festive photos of a Kuwaiti teenager getting a jab. Her father, a 62-year-old diabetic with high blood pressure, couldn’t, like other relatives living there.

“All Kuwaitis I know are vaccinated,” she said. “It’s not just annoying. No, this isn’t cool. There’s no way I feel like I’m here anymore.”

Kuwait vaccinated citizens six times as often as non-citizens, the Ministry of Health said earlier this year. At that time, about 238,000 foreigners registered their reservations online, but only 18,000 were actually called in to get the vaccine. During that time, about 119,000 Kuwaitis were vaccinated.

Proponents say they are shutting out scores for low-wage workers from Southeast Asia who do not speak either language, as vaccine information is only available in English or Arabic.

This disparity has sparked fierce debate on social media, with users blaming what is called the latest case of alien exclusion in Kuwait. They say the pandemic has increased the resentment of migrant workers, deepened social inequality, and first solidified the government’s determination to protect its own people. Medical experts have warned that the Kuwaiti vaccination hierarchy will harm public health.

Compared to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Kuwait’s drive lags behind among the fastest vaccinated people in the world per capita. While foreigners wait for fire, healthcare professionals say Kuwaiti citizens are reluctant to register because of the vaccine conspiracy theory that is widely shared on social media. With the proliferation of infectious diseases, the government began to impose a curfew last month.

As pressure on the Ministry of Health has increased, barriers have been eased in recent weeks, increasing the number of foreign residents aged 65 and over and being able to get vaccinated. Still, most expatriates claim that access inequality remains significant.

“We are waiting for a call,” said 55-year-old house cleaner in Sri Lanka. “When I get a call, I’ll go. I need a vaccine for my safety.”

The government has not released a demographic breakdown of vaccinated foreigners and Kuwaitis since the outbreak of anger over inequality in mid-February, only the overall vaccination statistics. ing. As of this week, 500,000 people have taken either Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca at least once, according to health officials.

Most of the front-line workers in grocery stores and cafes remain unvaccinated, but Kuwait plans to reopen society for those who have been vaccinated. The government has announced that anyone who can prove that they have a jab can go to school in the fall, go to the cinema in the spring, fly to the country, and then skip quarantine.

Foreign workers in Kuwait have previously felt this frustration. When the pandemic first broke out, lawmakers, talk show organizers, and prominent actresses blamed immigrants for the spread of the virus.

When the coronavirus struck crowded areas and dormitories inhabited by many foreigners, authorities imposed a targeted blockade and published a surge in virus numbers along with a breakdown of nationalities. When the infection increased among Kuwaitis, the government stopped publishing demographic data.

“It’s easy for immigrants to be seen as the root of all Kuwait’s problems,” said Rohan Advani, a sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Unlike what is happening in their country, blaming foreigners is the main exit. “

Despite the candid parliament, Kuwait’s ultimate power rests with the ruling party’s chief. Kuwaiti citizens, who are guaranteed a spot for public salaries and enjoy the benefits of a welfare state from the cradle to the graveyard, are increasingly demanding policies to limit the flow of immigrants.

Earlier this year, the government banned visa renewals for expatriates over the age of 60 without a college degree, effectively expelling an estimated 70,000 people, including many who have lived in Kuwait for decades.

“This discrimination is nothing new to us. The pandemic has highlighted the worst,” said a 30-year-old Lebanese woman who grew up in Kuwait and whose older relatives are still waiting for the vaccine.

“But this is life and death. I didn’t really think it would reach this point,” she said.

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