4,000 bidoons to be given Kuwaiti citizenship

Kuwait’s Parliament has passed a bill granting citizenship for up to 4,000 foreigners in a move aimed at resolving the problem of stateless people in the Gulf state.

“The majority of those to be granted nationality must be bidoons... We will hold the government to account if it commits any violations in this issue,” MP Khaled Al Shulaimi said in comments published by AFP.

“Today, we have laid down a roadmap to resolve the crisis of bidoons... who are suffering and being deprived” of many of their rights, independent MP Khaled Al-Adwah told the house after the vote.

To take effect the law must be signed by the emir.

Kuwait, home to an estimated 180,000 bidoon, set up a committee in November 2010 promising some rights to bidoon, such as identification papers and access to public education. However, local reports said only 16,000 citizenship applications had been approved in the last 20 years.

Sheikh Ahmad Al Humoud Al Sabah, the interior minister, said last year it would start to naturalise some of its bidoon following repeated protests, which were broken up by water cannon and tear gas during the Arab Spring.

Saleh Al Fadhalah, who heads the government’s central agency for illegal residents, said as many as 34,000 stateless people could qualify for citizenship.

Kuwait has long claimed the bidoon have destroyed their original passports to claim Kuwaiti citizenship, which would allow them to claim the Gulf state’s generous welfare benefits.

In a bid to force the bidoon, often descendants of desert nomads, to produce original nationality papers, Kuwait has refused to issue essential documents to most of them, including birth, marriage and death certificates.

Human Rights Watch urged authorities in the Gulf state to follow through on promises to address citizenship claims of its stateless people.

“Following decades of broken promises, Kuwait needs to act now to address the plight of the Bidoon,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said last year.

“Punishing Bidoon for protesting while refusing to act on their citizenship claims shows how little respect the government has for their rights.”

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