Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2017, 15:25 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Kuwait

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Kuwait, 1 January 1997, available at: [accessed 23 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis 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.
About 42,000 refugees were living in Kuwait in 1996, including 25,000 Palestinians who faced continuing pressure to leave the country. Other populations in refugee-like conditions in Kuwait in 1996 included about 15,000 Iraqis and 2,000 Somalis and Afghans. Another 127,000 stateless Arabs, known as Bidoon, live in Kuwait. Many of them have lived in Kuwait their entire lives, but are not recognized as citizens.

UNHCR registered 3,821 refugees during the year, who were able to benefit from its protection and assistance. Registered refugees included 1,988 Iraqis, 1,693 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, and smaller numbers of Somalis and Afghans.

Kuwait continued to maintain a highly restrictive immigration policy stemming from a deep-seated suspicion held by many Kuwaitis that those noncitizens who remained in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation in 1991 collaborated with Iraqi forces. Topping the list of suspected groups were Iraqis, Palestinians, Yemenis, and the Bidoon.

In April, UNHCR signed an agreement with Kuwait that enhances its role in the country. The agreement, which went into effect in September, affirms UNHCR's role in providing international protection to "refugees and other persons who fall within the scope of its mandate." The agreement furthermore calls upon the government of Kuwait to "facilitate access of the staff of the office to all refugees and persons falling within UNHCR's mandate." Nevertheless, Kuwait still lacks any law or procedure for determining refugee status.

Iraqis Kuwait's security concerns with respect to Iraq have made it exceedingly difficult for any Iraqis to seek asylum in Kuwait. In 1996, UNHCR and the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM) developed a procedure for identifying Iraqi asylum seekers crossing the demilitarized zone between Iraq and Kuwait. The goal of the procedure was to prevent the refoulement of asylum seekers.

In May 1995, a group of 16 Iraqis who had been living in a refugee camp in Iran traveled to Kuwait by boat and were referred to UNHCR for status determination. However, in July of that year, larger groups of 250 to 300 Iraqis from refugee camps in Iran began to arrive in Kuwait both by sea and overland. These Iraqis were denied access to Kuwaiti territory. One group of about 200 Iraqis were "returned to where they came from," according to the Kuwaiti interior minister, who said they were brought temporarily to the small island of Faylakah, northeast of the capital, Kuwait City, where they were reprovisioned before being returned.

Under its new agreement with the Kuwaiti government and the arrangements with UNIKOM, UNHCR is hopeful that such occurrences will not be repeated.

Resettlement and Voluntary Repatriation The best defense against refoulement or indefinite detention of refugees in Kuwait is an assurance that refugees will not remain permanently in Kuwaiti territory, but will be resettled to third countries. In 1996, 56 persons, mainly Iraqis, were resettled in Denmark, Great Britain, Norway, and Sweden. UNHCR also facilitated the repatriation of a small number of Somalis and Afghans in 1996.

Detention and Deportation Almost 1,000 persons were being held in detention facilities in Kuwait during the first half of 1996, pending deportation. There is no judicial review of deportation orders, and some, particularly Iraqis and Bidoon, have been held for more than a year in locations such as the Expulsion Center of the Kuwait Central Prison or the Talha Deportation Prison in Farwaniyya. Conditions of detention are poor and overcrowded. In the second half of the year, some of the foreigners being held pending deportation were released from detention.

The government reserves the authority to deport "foreigners" without trial, including stateless persons born in Kuwait and other habitual residents of Kuwait. Foreigners are often deported on security grounds or due to the expiration of work permits. The government has allowed UNHCR and ICRC to monitor the detention facilities for foreigners facing deportation, and has reportedly allowed ICRC to ascertain the willingness of foreigners to return to their countries of origin. Some of the long-term detention in these facilities is attributed to the unwillingness of the detainees to return to their countries of origin.

Bidoon Prior to the Iraqi invasion, more than 250,000 Bidoon lived in Kuwait. Since the Kuwaiti government resumed control of the country, the number of Bidoon dropped to about 127,000 in 1996. Bidoon government employees, many working for the police and army before the war, were fired from their jobs and had their children removed from Kuwaiti schools. They have been restricted to live in overcrowded slum areas. Many have been deported from the country, often without a hearing, most commonly for alleged collaboration with Iraqi occupying forces during the war. Bidoon with strong ties to Kuwait who have left the country have not been able to return, and remain stateless in Iraq and other countries.

In December 1995, the government announced a one-year deadline for Bidoon to register or to face deportation. In April 1996, in an apparent gesture to encourage Bidoon to register, the Kuwaiti interior minister announced that 200 Bidoon had been naturalized and that the government was prepared to grant citizenship to another 105.

Palestinians Palestinians in Kuwait found themselves in a similar predicament to that of the Bidoon. About 350,000 Palestinians lived in Kuwait before the Gulf War. By 1996, the number was down to about 25,000.

Most of the Palestinians, some 180,000, fled to Jordan during the Iraqi occupation and were not permitted to return. Like the Bidoon, many of the Palestinians still living in Kuwait after the war – including all government employees – were fired from their jobs, and their children were denied access to government schools, in effect making it impossible for them to continue living in Kuwait. More serious allegations, such as torture and killing by Kuwaiti vigilante squads, also surfaced.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians left for Jordan as a result of direct or indirect coercion following the war. In 1996, many of the 25,000 Palestinians still in Kuwait faced strong pressure to leave, yet had no place to go. About 8,000 of this residual group were stateless refugees from the Gaza Strip. Because Israel refused to admit them to the Gaza Strip, Egypt did not permit them to return to Egypt, since they would not be able to transit from there to Gaza.

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