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Kuwait: Bidoon

Volume 757: debated on Tuesday 2 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Kuwait about granting citizenship to the stateless Bidoon who are resident in that country.

My Lords, the British embassy in Kuwait is in regular contact with the Kuwaiti Government to lobby on this important issue. The UK recognises that the situation of the Bidoon in Kuwait causes real human rights problems. We encourage the Kuwaiti Government to implement swiftly their plan to naturalise those individuals eligible for Kuwaiti nationality and regularise the situation for the remainder.

My Lords, I know that my noble friend is well aware of the fact that Kuwaiti Bidoon children are born stateless and go through the whole of their lives without access to education, health and public services of all kinds. Over the many years that the Government have been making representations on the subject, their representations have fallen on deaf ears. Will my noble friend, bearing in mind the close relationship between the royal families of our two countries and the recent world public appeal of the UNHCR to reduce statelessness, consider making a high-level appeal to the emir himself to grant citizenship to those 120,000 stateless people, and procure that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs follows our example?

My Lords, I would not seek to invite the Royal Family to take particular actions, but I am sure that everything that the noble Lord says in this Chamber has due regard paid to it in these matters. He is right to refer to the UNHCR. The UK is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, but Kuwait is not. We encourage all countries to sign the convention.

I should remind my noble friend, and therefore the House, that the 105,000 estimated Bidoon who seek nationality are not all in the same category. Of those, about 34,000 were in Kuwait before independence in 1961 but did not register for citizenship. The remaining number have come to Kuwait after that date from other countries. Some of them went there to work; some were illegal immigrants. Therefore, their position is very different from those who, with their descendants, seek full citizenship.

Can the Minister give us some idea of what she described as the remainder, those who will not qualify for naturalisation? Their plight is surely the most serious.

My Lords, the estimate is that there are 105,000 Bidoon people—or people who claim to be Bidoon, as I should more accurately reflect the position—of whom 34,000 can be identified as being either those who were in Kuwait prior to June 1961 or descendants of those families, so there is some evidential link. Therefore, a substantial number of people would like to obtain citizenship. The Kuwaiti Government have created a system whereby the position is being reviewed for all those people, and those who qualify for full citizenship will do so. The remainder may be considered to have a regularised position, which means that they will be linked to the countries from which they came, if they have an evidential link, and could have a residential status in Kuwait, just not full citizenship.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the Kuwaiti Government have offered to the 105,000 stateless Bidoons that they might emigrate to the Comoro Islands. They have particularly said that those who are found to have broken the law will be relocated compulsorily to the Comoro Islands, which sounds rather as if the Comoros are being treated as a penal colony. Have the Government had any conversations with the Comoros Government as to what their view is of Kuwait’s intention? Moreover, for the others that she identified as having evidential links to other GCC countries, what discussions are there with the GCC countries to facilitate their removal back to those countries, if there are those links?

My Lords, the situation in regards to the Comoro Islands is that there have been reports in the media that a senior official in the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior recently stated that the Kuwaiti Government would start helping the Bidoon to register for what was described as economic citizenship of the Comoro Islands. That is a media report and we do not, as a Government, have further detail of any formal proposals. I am aware that the Comoros Government have previously provided passports to stateless residents from elsewhere in the UAE. However, with regard to those persons in Kuwait who claim to be Bidoon but who are not those who can claim full citizenship and go through that process, it is for that remainder to negotiate with Kuwait how Kuwait determines their link to other countries. This Government do not get involved in that situation.

My Lords, is it not the case that the Kuwaiti Government made a positive move in 2011 towards bringing the health and education benefits of Bidoon people on a level with those of Kuwaiti citizens? Could the Government not encourage that move, because the Kuwaiti Government are not following through with it?

My Lords, in fact there were two steps taken, very appropriately, by the Kuwaiti Government. The first was to set up a mechanism by which adjudication can be made as to which category those claiming citizenship may fall into. That process is going ahead—it was established in 2010 and has a five-year life to run—and we, as others, are clearly getting impatient and making representations. With regard to education, we have had reports from NGOs and individuals that access to education has been made difficult, but the Kuwaiti Government say that that is not the case.