Kuwait ‘playing games’ with lives of more than 100,000 Bidun residents

The announcement by Kuwait that tens of thousands of stateless people in the country known as the Bidun 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 long-standing issue of the Biduns’ 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.

“Many Bidun currently living in Kuwait were born and raised in Kuwait. They are entitled to a fair, transparent and prompt adjudication of their applications for Kuwaiti citizenship.”

According to the proposal, the Bidun would be allowed to remain in Kuwait as foreign nationals.

“While this latest promise may regularize the status of some Bidun, 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 Biduns have access to an independent, prompt and fair process when applying for citizenship.”

More than 100,000 Bidun may be eligible for Kuwaiti nationality but are considered“illegal residents” by the government. Unable to obtain citizenship, many are discriminated against and denied access to work, health care and education. In recent years, they have demanded Kuwaiti citizenship in protests which the police have dispersed using excessive force. Hundreds have been arbitrarily arrested though dozens were also acquitted.

In October 2012, Prime Minister Jaber al-Sabah told Amnesty International that the Kuwaiti government would solve the issue of the Bidun within five years. Kuwait has reportedly offered the Union of the Comoros, a member of the Arab League, a range of investments in return for the purchase of ”economic citizenship” for the Bidun.

Kuwait does not allow its courts to review the administrative decisions rejecting citizenship applications. Amnesty International believes that the naturalization process overseen by Kuwait’s Central System to Resolve Illegal Residents’ Status is opaque and based on shifting criteria. It routinely makes arbitrary decisions and lacks independence.

“Kuwait must ensure that all applications for nationality are reviewed in a fair, transparent and swift manner. Every Bidun resident of Kuwait must be guaranteed access to the courts or another form of independent tribunal to challenge decisions made by the authorities,” said Said Boumedouha.