Kuwait- Few takers seen for costly Comoros citizenship scheme

(MENAFN- Arab Times) KUWAIT CITY Nov 10 (Agencies): Kuwait's announcement that tens of thousands of stateless people will be offered citizenship of the impoverished African nation of Comoros has highlighted their decades-old plight. But a representative of the community whose members demand Kuwaiti citizenship rejected the Gulf Arab state's offer as 'totally impractical'.

The stateless people known as Bedouns insist they were born and raised in Kuwait and thus have full rights to claim citizenship. Kuwait says a majority of the Bedouns belong to other countries and that only 34000 of them qualify for consideration of citizenship after meeting a set of stringent conditions.

The country insists it has documented evidence to prove its claims saying the Bedouns are mainly from neighbouring Iraq and Saudi Arabia as well as a few thousand from Iran Jordan and Syria. The Bedouns numbered 106000 in 2011 according a Human Rights Watch report based on Kuwaiti government statistics. The figures show that while 34000 Bedouns qualify for consideration of citizenship 42000 are Iraqis 26000 are of other nationalities mainly Saudi and the status of 4000 is unknown.


The government based its findings on secret information which it refuses to share HRW said. Kuwait says apart from those eligible to apply for citizenship other Bedouns or their ancestors crossed into the country illegally and destroyed their passports in order to gain access to generous welfare programmes including free housing.

The secretary general of the Kuwaiti Bedouns Committee Nawaf Al-Bader said none of the 34000 identified as eligible three years ago have been granted citizenship. 'Government claims that Bedouns belong to other countries are false and unsubstantiated. If these claims were true why has the government not deported them' said Bader a Bedoun himself.

The actual number of Bedouns was much higher than official figures he said with between 40000 and 50000 of them unregistered. A few years ago the government established a special agency to resolve the Bedoun problem and named it the Central Agency for Illegal Residents the official name of Bedouns in Kuwait.

After years of depriving them of basic rights the government recently started offering Bedouns some services. It has started appointing them as public school teachers and allowing some to seek private sector employment.


It has been paying school fees for thousands of Bedoun children whose fathers are registered as well as issuing them birth marriage and death certificates. But Bader insists the services have not been offered to all Bedouns as many remain deprived and live in 'misery'. Parliament has repeatedly passed legislation allowing the government to naturalise 4000 Bedouns each year but most of the laws have not been implemented. Authorities have given no indication of the potential cost of the Comoros deal but activists on social networks claim it would amount to billions of dollars. But Bader said offering Bedouns Comoros citizenship was 'totally impractical' and that Sunday's announcement was met with 'anger and rejection' by his community. Comoros is an archipelago state located off eastern Africa and is a member of the Arab League.

A member of Parliament's human rights committee MP Faisal Al-Duwaisan described the move as 'very grave' and vowed to question the prime minister if the government implements the decision. For the past three years police have broken up with force Bedoun protests calling for citizenship and other basic rights.

Hundreds have been arrested and put on trial accused of illegal demonstrations and assaulting police. Lawmaker Nabil Al-Fadhl in April proposed sending to a desert camp stateless people convicted of breaching public security and protesting. In an unprecedented move in 2012 Refugees International Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International jointly wrote a letter to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah highlighting the plight of Bedouns and urging an end to their alleged abuse. 'All Bedouns born in Kuwait should be recognised as citizens and those who have resided in the country for a reasonable amount of time should be eligible to apply for citizenship and acquire citizenship' they said.


The announcement by Kuwait that tens of thousands of Bedouns might be able to obtain 'economic citizenship' of the Union of the Comoros an impoverished archipelago off eastern Africa is a shameless betrayal of Kuwait's international human rights obligations said Amnesty International. 'It is shocking that authorities in Kuwait would try to resolve the longstanding issue of the Bedouns' statelessness and discrimination by mass purchasing another country's 'economic citizenship'' said Said Boumedouha Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme.

'While this latest promise may regularize the status of some Bedouns it is simply a backhanded way to avoid solving the long-standing issue of their citizenship of Kuwait. The fact remains that they have been denied any kind of fair chance to obtain citizenship in Kuwait' said Said Boumedouha. 'Instead of playing games with people's lives and futures authorities in Kuwait must find a long-term solution to this problem by ensuring all Bedouns have access to an independent prompt and fair process when applying for citizenship.'

Arab Times

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