KUWAIT CITY: A bill to grant Kuwaiti citizenship to at least 4,000 stateless people this year passed the first stage of approval in the Gulf state's parliament on Thursday.
The bill, approved by 33 MPs with 14 others including nine cabinet ministers abstaining, will become effective after it clears a second round of voting later this month and after it is signed by the oil-rich Gulf state's ruler.
Stateless, locally known as bidoons, were born and raised in Kuwait and claim they have the right to Kuwaiti citizenship, but the government says only 34,000 out of more than 106,000 qualify for consideration, while the rest hold other nationalities.
The emirate alleges that bidoons or their ancestors, destroyed their original passports to claim the right to citizenship in order to gain access to the state-provided services and benefits.
Bidoons have been deprived of basic rights to force them to reveal their original identities.
"Bidoons have been oppressed and deprived of jobs, education, health, getting a driver's licence and even getting married," Shiite lawmaker Yussef al-Zalzalah said during the debate Thursday.
"They are being humiliated and mistreated ... What we have been doing to them is unfair."
Stateless people have been protesting for the past two years to demand citizenship and basic rights. Police repeatedly used force to disperse demonstrators and more than 200 bidoon protesters are currently on trial.
In October, Refugees International, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International sent a joint letter to Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, urging him to end alleged abuses against stateless people.