Citizenship for some stateless people, 'premium' residency for others

KUWAIT: National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem yesterday revealed his long-awaited draft law that promises to provide a lasting and just solution for the decades-old problem of some 120,000 stateless people in the country, which involves granting citizenship to some. Ghanem told reporters that the bill was submitted to the Assembly on Thursday and will be up for debate and discussion to provide the necessary solution for bedoons in Kuwait.

Basically, the draft law suggests granting Kuwaiti citizenship to some of the bedoons, "premium" 15-year renewable residency for others, provided they produce their original nationality, and punishment for those who refuse to reveal their original citizenship.

Bedoons or their forefathers have been living in the country for several decades and claim the right to Kuwaiti citizenship. The government counters by insisting that a majority of the bedoons or their ancestors have other nationalities which they have hidden in order to get Kuwaiti citizenship and its generous benefits.

The bill stipulates that the government's central body for bedoons will prepare a list of the names of stateless people who fulfill all requirements to obtain Kuwaiti citizenship, and then the necessary Amiri decrees will be issued granting them nationality. Bedoons who do not qualify for direct consideration for citizenship will be given one year to reveal their actual identity. They will also be given the right to apply for Kuwaiti citizenship and will be accorded priority for this.

Bedoons who reveal their actual nationality will be given a premium residency of 15 years which can be renewed. Wives and minor children of this category will be given the same residency. The premium residency includes a variety of services that include free medical and educational services, including benefits for handicapped people. Benefits also include getting ration cards like Kuwaitis, driving licenses and jobs in private and public sectors like expatriates, and the ability to carry out commercial activities, obtaining all necessary documents and doing all government transactions. Bedoons under this category are allowed to apply for Kuwaiti citizenship based on rules and regulations.

The bill states that bedoons who refuse to reveal their actual citizenship will be treated as violators of the residency law and penalized in accordance with the relevant laws. They will not enjoy any of the benefits that others enjoy and will be deprived of the right to apply for Kuwaiti citizenship in the future.

A committee for petitions will be established with at least two judges, which will have the right to review petitions submitted by bedoons related to citizenship or premium residency issues. Bedoons are allowed to file the petitions within 30 days, to be reviewed by the committee within 60 more days. The committee will send its decision to the higher citizenship committee, which will make the final decision within 60 days.
The initial reaction to the bill has been negative, especially from bedoon activists and their Kuwaiti supporters, with some alleging the bill is an election campaign gimmick by Ghanem.

By B Izzak