Tens of thousands of stateless people in Kuwait, known as the Bidoon, will be offered citizenship in the Comoros Islands; a senior interior ministry official was quoted as saying.
According to the BBC, Kuwait has more than 100,000 Bidoon, many of whom claim Kuwaiti nationality but are officially considered illegal residents by the government; despite being mostly descended from nomadic Arabic Bedouin, according to the Human Rights Watch.
Major-General Mazen al-Jarrah told Al-Jarida daily that Bidoon would be offered economic citizenship in the Comoros and that those who accepted would receive residency permits in Kuwait and qualify for free social services including education and healthcare in Kuwait.
The process is expected to start with the opening of a Comoros embassy in Kuwait this year.
The Union of the Comoros has strong ties to the Middle East, recognising Arabic as one three official languages, alongside Comorian and French, and boasting membership within the Arab League.
Geographically, Comoros is a sovereign archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, located between north-eastern Mozambique and north-western Madagascar. The country is the third-smallest African nation by area, with an estimated population of just 798,000 people.
The country is also frequently highlighted as being one of the world’s poorest, and despite having a nominal GDP per capita of $894, about half of the population was living below the poverty line of $1.25 a day in 2009, according to the UN Development Programme.
It is as yet unclear what financial arrangement Kuwait might have regarding the Bidoon.
The controversy regarding the status of the Bidoon has persisted for decades in Kuwait, and while some government restrictions on Kuwait’s stateless persons were reduced in 2010 and 2011, the Kuwaiti population has in the past reacted angrily to any naturalisation attempts.
In recent years, the Bidoon have held protests demanding Kuwaiti citizenship that have been dispersed with force with many arrested. In December 2009, Kuwait did then grant Kuwaiti citizenship to 4,000 Bidoon, but worded the process as the “naturalisation of foreigners”.
Kuwait’s government has said that only 34,000 of the Bidoon qualify for consideration for Kuwaiti citizenship, labelling the others as either the paperless citizens of other countries who migrated to Kuwait after the discovery of oil, or as the descendants of those migrants.
Faisal al-Duwaisan, a Kuwaiti MP and member of the parliament’s human rights committee, has already objected to the Comoros proposal, describing the move as “very grave”.
He criticised the assertion that the Bidoon held foreign nationalities, commenting: “If this is true, the government should deport them to their home countries and not to Comoros.”