U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Saudi Arabia
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 January 1999|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Saudi Arabia , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8c734.html [accessed 20 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
At the end of 1998, Saudi Arabia hosted about 128,300 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. This included 122,500 Palestinians, most of whom had legal status, but were not formally recognized as refugees by the Saudi government. Another 5,375 Iraqi refugees and 157 Afghan refugees were living in the Rafha camp. At year's end, UNHCR was assisting another 225 refugees of various nationalities outside the Rafha camp.
Saudi Arabia, which has not signed the UN Refugee Convention, lacks a procedure or legal framework for determining refugee status.
Refugees from Iraq
During the 1991 Gulf War, more than 90,000 Iraqis sought refuge with coalition forces in the occupied zone of southern Iraq. Some 33,000 were eventually settled in two camps in Saudi Arabia, Artawiya (for single men) and Rafha (primarily for families and women). Artawiya camp was merged with Rafha camp during the last months of 1992. The vast majority of Iraqi refugees remaining in Rafha at the end of 1998 were ethnic Arab Shi'ite Muslims, primarily from urban areas and the marshes of southern Iraq.
Although Saudi Arabia provided health care, air cooling in the living quarters, and primary and secondary schooling, Rafha remained a closed camp in 1998. Saudi authorities prohibited refugees from traveling outside the camp, located in a highly militarized zone. Saudi soldiers regularly patrolled the camp in armed vehicles and strictly enforced a nightly curfew.
The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense and Aviation, through its military personnel and a Saudi Arabian nongovernmental organization called the International Islamic Relief Organization, controlled all camp services, although UNHCR maintained a presence in both Rafha and Riyadh during the year.
From the beginning of Iraqi refugee resettlement from Saudi Arabia, the United States proposed that the combined number of refugees resettled annually to other countries at least equal the number the United States accepted. In fact, when the U.S. resettlement program ended on December 15, 1997, the United States had resettled almost exactly half of the refugees who had been resettled from Rafha camp.
In 1998, fewer countries continued to resettle refugees from Rafha. Sweden resettled the most, 234, followed by Iran, which resettled 191, Canada, 43, and Norway, 3.
Denmark also resettled five Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia in 1998.
About 3,000 Iraqi refugees have voluntarily repatriated from Rafha since UNHCR established its permanent presence in the camp in late 1991. The vast majority of these returned to Iraq during the first few years. Since that time, only a few have done so. In 1998, only nine Iraqi refugees voluntarily repatriated.
The Saudi government gives returning refugees a grant of about $800. UNHCR interviews potential returnees to ensure that their repatriation is voluntary. UNHCR protection officers escort returning refugees to the border. The Saudi military facilitates transportation to the border, where relatives and Iraqi border authorities (but no international monitoring body) meet returnees.
Because Iraq refuses to ensure the safety of returning refugees and restricts access to them, UNHCR does not promote repatriation for the Rafha population.
Other Foreign Nationals
Saudi Arabia's 1992 Basic Law says that "the State will grant political asylum," but qualifies this by adding "if the public interest mitigates" in favor of it. The government has not established procedures for adjudicating refugee claims, and did not amend its laws or regulations relating to asylum during the year.
In practice, many foreigners who might have well-founded fears of persecution if returned to their home countries stay in Saudi Arabia as part of its large expatriate work force rather than as recognized refugees. Foreigners comprise at least half of the country's work force, and one third of Saudi Arabia's population. In August, the government decreed that Saudi citizens had to comprise at least 5 percent of the work force in private enterprises. Foreign workers come mostly from south and southeast Asia and poorer Arab countries; they include more than one million persons from India.
Foreign workers must have Saudi sponsors. Employers, who routinely keep foreign employees' passports, control their movement within Saudi Arabia, as well as their ability to remain or to leave the country.
In 1997, the government announced an "amnesty" whereby undocumented foreigners living in the country could leave the country "voluntarily" without penalty if they left by October 15, 1997. After the deadline, Saudi authorities began arresting and deporting undocumented aliens, and continued doing so in 1998.
Estimates of the number of Palestinians residing in Saudi Arabia range from 122,500 to 245,000. In general, Palestinians residing outside the UNRWA-mandate area (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza) are considered prima facie refugees.
UNHCR assisted 157 Afghan refugees in Rafha camp in 1998, all long-term residents in southern Iraq at the time of the Gulf War (and many of whom had moved to the Shi'ite holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala in Iraq to pursue Islamic studies and training). Most appeared not to be interested in resettlement to a non-Muslim country.