KUWAIT: Two lawmakers who recently arrived back from the Comoros gave conflicting statements on whether the issue of stateless residents was discussed or not, adding even more uncertainty surrounding the fate of Kuwait’s population of ‘bedoons’.
MP Saud Al-Huraiji, head of the parliamentary delegation that visited the African nation last week, denied on Sunday that Kuwaiti lawmakers had any discussions with Comorian officials related to the bedoon issue. However, delegation member MP Hamdan Al-Azmi was quoted by the press yesterday confirming that such discussions took place.
Not only that, but Azmi told Al-Anbaa daily that Comorian officials ‘agreed in principle’ on the possibility of giving the African country’s citizenship to stateless residents in Kuwait. Huraiji himself was quoted by the press ahead of the visit as saying that the delegation would attend workshops on the settlement of bedoons in the Comoros, and probe the credibility of recent talks in that regard.
The governments of Kuwait and the Comoros had reportedly discussed in the past the possibility of granting the African nation’s citizenship to stateless residents in Kuwait. However, the issue of resettling ‘bedoons’ in the Comoros was not addressed. One Comorian official has recently confirmed that. According to Azmi, the Comorian interior minister informed the Kuwaiti delegation that negotiations took place with Kuwait over the possible naturalization of ‘bedoons’ “based on an initiative from the Comoros.”
“The Comoros expressed agreement in principles over the issue,” Azmi said, “and they need specific legislations to be passed in (the Comorian) parliament for that purpose. A delegation from the Comoros had discussed this issue during a previous visit to Kuwait, and negotiations have been ongoing for over a year.”
Azmi, meanwhile, reiterated his rejection to such proposals, demanding that the Kuwaiti government naturalizes deserving ‘bedoons’. Kuwait first entertained the idea of providing the Comoros’ citizenship to ‘bedoons’ in 2014, following in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates. Under a plan reportedly discussed between the governments of the two nations, illegal residents would obtain Comoros’ citizenship and retain the rights to reside in Kuwait under Article 22 (self-sponsorship), to free education and health care, and to employment. Meanwhile, Kuwait would build schools, institutes and houses in the island-nation. Kuwait insists that no stateless resident would be forcibly deported as a consequence of this plan.
The ambiguity in lawmakers’ most recent comments is reflective of the way that both government and parliament have approached this dilemma since Kuwait’s independence over half a century ago. Kuwait is home to more than 100,000 illegal residents who seek Kuwaiti citizenship as well as civil and social rights. However, the government says that only 34,000 are qualified for consideration while the rest are Arabs or descendants of Arab people who moved to Kuwait following the discovery of oil and deliberately disposed of their original passports to seek citizenship in the oil-rich country.
Last November, Interior Ministry’s Assistant Undersecretary for Citizenship and Passports Affairs Major General Mazen Al-Jarrah confirmed that the issue pertaining with the 34,000 illegal residents is being studied in cooperation with the Central Apparatus for Illegal Residents; a state body established in 2010 to find a final solution to the decades-old bedoon problem. He added that while those people have documents to prove they were registered in the 1965 census – a prerequisite for consideration to receive citizenship – further filtering could render some files disqualified due to security and other reasons.
The National Assembly approved recently several recommendations pertinent to the conditions of illegal residents. The recommendations included the naturalization of worthy illegal residents, mainly the children of martyrs, Kuwaitis’ relatives and military personnel. They also called for handing out ‘security cards’ to illegal residents who are not included in naturalization lists so that they could gain access to basic humanitarian and social rights, recruiting them at military and government agencies and bodies as well as the private sector, and for reconsidering existing security restrictions on illegal residents’ families. Furthermore, illegal residents should be given access to birth and death certificates, marriage and divorce contracts, driving licenses and public schools.
Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah had warned that the government would abstain from voting unless such recommendations were reformulated. But, he had assured that the issue of illegal residents was given top priority by the government.
Kuwait has for over six years been encouraging ‘bedoons’ to legalize their status by obtaining documents that show their original nationalities, announcing benefits to those who do so including residency permits, free-of-charge education and health services, supply cards, and priority recruitment after Kuwaiti nationals in public agencies and bodies. Last November, Kuwaiti authorities announced that over 7,000 stateless people have regulated their status since 2011.