Kuwaiti newspapers announced the government’s intention to compulsory purchase “Jleeb Al Shuyoukh Neighbourhood”, in order to re-plan it as a single family housing area for Kuwaitis that are entitled for housing welfare.
Today, there are more than thirty thousand living at “Jleeb Al Shuyoukh”. The vast majority are made up of single male expatriates and low income workers. The government has shut its eyes to the area and allowed land owners to rent housing units to low income workers; the area has gradually become crowded and chaotic. This situation has been coupled with many negative phenomenon and crimes. The area is a haven for illegal immigrants and fugitives, and it is now a major challenge to law enforcement.
This being said, in order to be able to build an objective opinion about the matter, we have to be aware that there is a defect in the demographic composition of the State of Kuwait, where the percentage of expatriates reached 70 % and male expats are 50% of the population. These are high and unnatural percentages.
It is known that the vast majority of expatriates are employed in low-wage jobs. In addition they struggle with labour laws and the injustice of the illegal residency merchants.
In addition, planning policies in Kuwait neglected this essential part of the population which resulted in serious challenges to find suitable housing. As in Kuwait, both single family neighbourhoods and high density investment housing refuse them. The places where medium income expatriates and families reside also do not accept them. Even the governmental attempts to establish labour cities in the past ten years have failed.
I am writing this article as I see the spirit of Kuwait is transforming. Especially under these difficult times, many voices began to blame the expatriates and their increasing of the problems of the country.
Yes, we are aware of the housing issue, as well as the suffering of Kuwaiti families due to increasing real estate prices and rents. In addition, to the extended and unreasonable periods of waiting for the provision of public housing. However, we have to realize that the expatriates are partners in the country; we have invited them to live with us, and surely we need their help. The fact that some expatriates are weak, lack representation, and our legal regulation does not allow them to express their voice, does not mean that we should neglect their rights or violate their dignity.
We need to understand that it’s not of our interest to shake the social peace that Kuwait is known for. Lately, there have been some angry voices against the expatriates. I recall a speech that was read by the late Amir of Kuwait Shaikh Jaber Al Sabah while his eyes were filled with tears, at the general assembly meeting of the United Nations on the 27th of September 1990 during the invasion of Kuwait:
“We shall return to our Kuwait as we know it, a home of safety and security and a shaded genuine oasis where all the good people; Kuwaitis and their brothers and sisters who live among them find shelter, work together as one hand for good and building”
Do we accept, after that, to become a polar society, selective and radical, that seeks the welfare of some, while watching fellow neighbours struggle with a difficult life?
From a planning point of view, we should see that the problem of random illegal housing will not be solved simply by compulsory purchasing “Jleeb Al Shuyoukh” no matter how much budget we allocate for the task. This decision is just like a man who tries to hide dirt under the carpet, and by not seeing it, he thinks that it does not exist. Be assured that once we displace the workers from “Jleeb Al Shuyoukh” they will move to another area and re-establish the typology of “Jleeb” at another location.
I hope that we study the problem closely and develop a deeper understanding of its various dimensions. I fully trust that we are able to find many solutions that provide adequate housing for citizens and expatriates of all categories to preserve a diverse country where all people live in security and safety.
Planning policies shall be based on a vision, and this vision must first stem from humane and moral bases.