Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Kuwait

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Kuwait, 1 January 1998, 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 90,000 refugees were living in Kuwait in 1997, including 75,000 Palestinians and 15,000 Iraqis. These are rough estimates, however, as Kuwait does not formally recognize refugees. Rather, it tolerates the presence of some foreigners as part of its expatriate labor force.

Kuwaiti citizens are a minority within their own country; some 1.3 million foreigners outnumber about 700,000 Kuwaiti citizens. Kuwait has been hostile and suspicious toward certain groups believed to have been sympathetic with Iraq during the Gulf War‹particularly Palestinians, Iraqis, and the remaining 117,000 stateless Arabs, known as Bidoon, still in Kuwait. Many of them have lived in Kuwait their entire lives, but are not recognized as citizens.

UNHCR's caseload in Kuwait in 1997 included about 1,600 Iraqis and about 2,000 Palestinians.

Refugee Law and Procedure Kuwait is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, has no domestic law relating to refugees, nor a procedure for adjudicating refugee claims. In August 1996, however, the Kuwaiti National Assembly ratified an agreement the government signed with UNHCR that recognized UNHCR's mandate to protect refugees. The agreement notes that UNHCR will seek voluntary repatriation or third-country resettlement for refugees it recognizes.

In fact, few UNHCR-recognized refugees in Kuwait‹most of whom are Palestinians or Iraqis‹can repatriate, making resettlement their only option as a permanent solution. In 1997, 42 persons from Kuwait resettled in third countries with UNHCR's assistance; one resettled in the United States, the rest in Western Europe.

In practice, the government allows UNHCR to adjudicate refugee claims. UNHCR conducts refugee determination interviews, and allows asylum seekers to appeal negative decisions. The Ministry of Interior signs and stamps UNHCR protection letters. In 1997, persons carrying such letters were generally able to avoid arrest at checkpoints, detention, and refoulement. UNHCR was also able to help some of them to renew their passports, crucial for their residing in Kuwait.

Detention and Deportation Between 500 and 1,000 foreigners were held in Kuwaiti prisons, deportation centers, and border posts at any time during the year, pending deportation. The government reserves the authority to deport foreigners without trial, including stateless persons born in Kuwait and other habitual residents of Kuwait. There is no judicial review of deportation orders. Kuwait often deports foreigners for security reasons or for expired work permits.

Kuwait has held about 10 percent of the detainees for more than a year, and some for up to six years. Detainees held pending deportation include stateless Bidoon, who have no country of citizenship to return to. Some Iraqis and Bidoon have been held for more than a year. The government most frequently used the Dasma Detention Center or the Talha Deportation Prison in Farwaniyya to detain foreigners pending deportation. Detention conditions were reportedly unsanitary and overcrowded.

If UNHCR determines a detained foreigner to be a refugee, the person generally is not released, but instead is moved to a special wing of the detention facility known as the "refugee cell." Family members are detained separately, although they have visitation rights.

In 1997, UNHCR appealed for the release of refugee women from prisons and deportation centers. In some cases, UNHCR identified local sponsors who petitioned for their release. UNHCR sought resettlement for single women, and women heads of household in detention, who had no possibility of being released and integrated into Kuwaiti society.

Although the August 1996 agreement allows UNHCR access to all persons falling within its mandate, UNHCR did not have access to accused Iraqi "infiltrators" in 1997 until after Kuwaiti security officials had conducted their own investigations. UNIKOM (the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission) and ICRC were also involved in monitoring the treatment of Iraqis accused of being infiltrators.

Assistance In the August 1996 agreement, Kuwait said it would cooperate with UNHCR in providing humanitarian assistance to persons falling under UNHCR's mandate. UNHCR assists refugees based on individual needs, and works with the Kuwaiti Red Crescent and Zakat House, a humanitarian agency, which also provide assistance. UNHCR has had some success with local officials in obtaining work and residence permits for certain UNHCR-recognized cases.

Bidoon Prior to the Iraqi invasion, more than 250,000 Bidoon lived in Kuwait. After Kuwait resumed control of the country, the number of Bidoon dropped to about 117,000 by the end of 1997.

As a result of the war, Kuwait fired Bidoon from government jobs, including the police force and the army, which had employed many before the war. The authorities restricted their residence to overcrowded slum areas and barred their children from Kuwaiti schools. Kuwait has deported many Bidoon, often without a hearing, most commonly for alleged collaboration with Iraqi occupying forces during the war. Bidoon with strong ties to Kuwait who left the country have not been allowed to return, and remain stateless in Iraq and other countries.

Although UNHCR does not refer Bidoon for resettlement and sees a lack of durable solutions on their behalf, the agency has tried to extend its protection mandate over them, citing the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

Kuwaiti citizenship brings many privileges, including a constitutionally guaranteed right to a job. As such, grants of citizenship have been narrowly guarded. Kuwait reserves full citizenship rights for those who established residence in the country prior to 1920. Consequently, Kuwait rarely accords citizenship to children born to Kuwaiti women if their fathers are Bidoon or foreigners.

In May, the National Assembly considered a proposal to naturalize about 10,000 Bidoon, about 10 percent of the Bidoon population in Kuwait. By the end of 1997, however, the government had naturalized only about 500 Bidoon, many the children of Kuwaiti citizen mothers.

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