Source: The Guardian (London)
By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian
On October 8, 2008, a group of government officials from the Comoro Islands made their way from their villages to a small airport not far from the nation’s capital, where, on a runway overlooking the Indian Ocean, a private plane stood waiting to fly them to Kuwait. The road that led them there was one of the longest in the archipelago nation – a 20km stretch that skims the west side of Ngazidja, the biggest of the three islands. It is a scenic drive, lined with pineapple, breadfruit, and mango trees, as well as potholes and piles of trash.
The reason for the officials’ trip to Kuwait was economic: their country was completely broke, and had been that way for as long as they could remember. The Comoro Islands, which lie in the Indian Ocean about 200 miles off the east coast of Africa, is one of the poorest nations in the world; the last time a poverty survey was conducted, in 2004, about half of its 800,000 citizens were living on less than $1.25 per day.
Earlier that year, the Comorian government had received a proposal from some visiting Arab businessmen. What if the Comoros started to sell their citizenship to raise funds? There was a great demand for passports in the Middle East, the men explained; for starters, wealthy individuals saw a second or third nationality as a shortcut to make travelling and doing business abroad easier. Some Gulf countries were also figuring out what to do with large groups of Bidoon, or stateless people residing within their borders. The Bidoon have no nationality for various reasons: some families simply failed to register with the state when these nations were formed and were subsequently denied citizenship; others had emigrated illegally generations ago; others still faced tribal, religious, or racial discrimination in Gulf monarchies that reserve citizenship, and the generous benefits that come with it, for those closely affiliated with the ruling cadre.
To document the Bidoon, some countries in the region were willing to pay good money to procure Comorian citizenship in bulk, the businessmen claimed. All the Comorians would have to do was pass a law allowing for this type of transaction, and print some passports.