The controversial plan to give Kuwait’s stateless people citizenship of a tiny, poor African island – The Washington Post

Another illustration of some of the unsavoury aspects of Gulf countries:

Comoros, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, is one of the smallest countries in Africa. Excluding the contested island of Mayotte, the Comoros archipelago covers about 640 square miles, roughly half the size of Rhode Island. Fewer than a million people live on the islands, made up of a variety of ethnicities that reflect the nation’s location at a historical crossroads.

But if a new plan gets the go-ahead, Comoros may gain significantly more citizens — by offering thousands, if not many more, of stateless people from Kuwait “economic citizenship.”

And many experts are not so sure this is a good thing.

These stateless people are mostly from Kuwait’s Bidun population, which numbers about 100,000. Almost by definition — their name comes from the Arabic phrase “bidun jinsiya” or “without nationality” — they do not have citizenship and are considered illegal immigrants. Some are the descendants of nomadic tribes who never asked for citizenship when Kuwait became independent in 1961. Others are Arabs who joined the Kuwaiti army in the 1970s and ’80s but never gained citizenship. Others have been refused citizenship for political reasons.

The Bidun form a sizable minority in Kuwait, where the total citizenship is about 1.5 million. They are often disenfranchised, having long been refused the generous state benefits that Kuwait awards to its citizens. Kuwait, perhaps fearful of what an angry Bidun minority may do, offered some limited reforms in 2011: allowing Biduns to claim health care and education, for example, and register their births, marriages and deaths. But Human Rights Watch noted at the time, many Biduns complained that bureaucratic processes meant it was difficult to get these benefits. And there remained no path to citizenship.

The government announced this would change in 2014 — but there was a catch. The citizenship on offer wasn’t going to be Kuwaiti. Instead, Sheikh Mazen Al-Jarah Al-Sabah, assistant undersecretary for citizenship and passports affairs in Kuwait’s Interior Ministry, revealed in an interview that the government was negotiating with a foreign country that would be willing to offer the Biduns citizenship in exchange for economic benefits. Later that year, the government confirmed Comoros was the country in question, although no officials from Comoros commented.

It was only this week that Comoros finally ended speculation and confirmed that it was willing to accept a deal. “Yes, it is something we are ready to do if officially requested by the Kuwaiti government,” Comorian External Affairs Minister Abdul Karim Mohammad, on a visit to Kuwait, told a Kuwaiti newspaper. Although the details have not been announced, it looks as if the plan is gathering steam.

Why would someone living in Kuwait want citizenship of a small island off the coast of Mozambique? There are some cultural links here — Comoros is largely Sunni Muslim, and it is a member of the Arab League — but the deal largely comes down to economic factors. Kuwait, bolstered by its oil industry, has a gross domestic product per capita of $43,500. Despite its idyllic natural beauty, Comoros’ GDP per capita is just more than $810; about 18 percent of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day. The country’s small economy has been strongly hindered by political instability. Since gaining independence from France in 1975, there have been more than 20 coups and secession attempts for which it gained an unfortunate nickname the “coup-coup islands.”

Source: The controversial plan to give Kuwait’s stateless people citizenship of a tiny, poor African island – The Washington Post

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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