Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2017, 14:48 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Kuwait

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Kuwait , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 20 September 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 52,000 refugees were living in Kuwait in 1999, including an estimated 35,000 Palestinians, 15,000 Iraqis, and 2,000 Somalis. These are rough estimates, however, because Kuwait does not recognize refugees. Rather, it tolerates the presence of some foreigners as part of its expatriate labor force. Kuwaiti tolerance, however, generally does not extend to Palestinians and Iraqis, whom Kuwaitis judge to have sided with Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.

Since 1991, Kuwait has been hostile and suspicious toward certain groups considered sympathetic to Iraq during the war – particularly Palestinians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and the remaining stateless Arabs, known as Bidoon, still in Kuwait.

Many Bidoon have lived in Kuwait their entire lives, but are not recognized as citizens. Kuwait reserves full citizenship rights for those who established residence in the country prior to 1920. Children born to Kuwaiti women are not generally accorded citizenship if their fathers are Bidoon or foreigners. Since 1991, Kuwait has reduced the number of its Bidoon residents by more than half, down from a pre-war population of 250,000 to an estimated 117,000 in 1999.

Kuwait also has significantly reduced the number of Iraqis and other foreign nationals – Palestinians, Jordanians, Yemenis, and Sudanese – whose leaders supported Iraq during the Gulf War. In 1996, Kuwait instituted a policy of routing the residence permit renewal applications of such foreigners through the State Security Service, which often denied them. By 1999, Kuwait had reduced the number of these foreign residents to about ten percent of its prewar total. Despite Kuwait's reconciliation in 1999 with Yemen, Jordan, and Sudan – supporters of Iraq during the war – it gave no indication of greater leniency toward their nationals residing in Kuwait.

Refugee Law and Procedure

Kuwait is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, has no domestic law relating to refugees, and no 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.

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 1999, persons carrying such letters were generally able to avoid arrest, detention, and refoulement.

At year's end, 4,389 refugees were registered with UNHCR, including 2,197 Palestinians, 1,816 Iraqis, 162 Somalis, 52 Afghans, and 162 refugees of other nationalities. UNHCR assists refugees based on individual needs assessments and cooperates with the Kuwaiti Red Crescent and Zakat House, a humanitarian agency, which also provides assistance.

Very few refugees arrived in Kuwait during 1999, in part because it is considerably harder for undocumented asylum seekers to cross the border and remain in Kuwait than it is in other countries in the region, such as Turkey, Jordan, and Syria. In fact, most refugees in Kuwait are long-term residents, most of whom sought UNHCR's protection only after Kuwaiti authorities refused to renew their residence permits, leaving them vulnerable to detention and deportation.

Many of the remaining Iraqis in Kuwait, for example, are habitual residents, with few, or no, ties to Iraq. Most cannot safely return to Iraq because Iraq regards them as traitors. At the same time, they are not welcome in Kuwait, which remains suspicious that they collaborated with the Iraqi occupation during the Gulf War. Similarly, many of the remaining Palestinians in Kuwait, a substantial number originally from Gaza with expired Egyptian travel documents, have no country of citizenship to return to and must also contend with the Kuwaiti perception that they were collaborators with Iraq.

Despite the popular animus against Iraqis and Palestinians, UNHCR told the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) during an October 1999 site visit to Kuwait that it primarily pursues local integration as a durable solution for these and other refugee groups. UNHCR generally has successfully negotiated with the Kuwaiti authorities to create local solutions for individual cases, one UNHCR official said.

In some cases, however, Kuwait denies the option of local settlement, usually citing a threat to security. When a refugee is unable to secure a residence and work permit and faces other difficulties, such as detention and deportation, UNHCR seeks to resettle the individual in a third country. Although UNHCR occasionally works to reunify Palestinian refugees in Kuwait with family members in other Middle Eastern countries, it generally does not resettle Palestinians outside the region.

In 1999, UNHCR assisted 10 refugees to resettle in third countries. Some 70 refugees were slated for resettlement in the United States at year's end, the first time the United States has agreed to admit refugees from Kuwait.

Detention and Deportation

Under its 1996 agreement with UNHCR, Kuwait grants the agency access to persons falling within its mandate, including persons held in detention or deportation facilities. The government, however, 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.

At the end of 1999, Kuwait held between 110 and 120 foreigners in its detention facilities, some pending deportation. However, the Kuwaiti government generally does not forcibly repatriate those slated for deportation, who are unable or unwilling to return to their countries of origin. This reportedly has led to the prolonged detention of certain foreigners, particularly Iraqi asylum seekers and refugees and Bidoon who have no country of citizenship to return to.

During 1999, Kuwait intercepted and detained the few Iraqis who crossed the demilitarized zone dividing Iraq and Kuwait. Kuwait considers all Iraqis crossing the border, including asylum seekers, as "infiltrators" and detains them for security reasons. The UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission informs UNHCR of any asylum seekers crossing the demilitarized zone into Kuwait. UNHCR reported that it is able to visit such asylum seekers in detention to assess refugee claims and to exercise its protection mandate.

Kuwait maintains a 124 mile (200 km) electrified border fence and a 128 mile (207 km) long trench along the demilitarized zone.


Kuwait made only limited progress toward solving the long-standing issue of Bidoon in 1999.

Kuwait has deported many Bidoon, often without a hearing, most commonly for alleged collaboration with the 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. As a result of the war, Kuwait also fired Bidoon from government jobs, including the police and army, which had employed many before the war. Authorities restricted their residence to overcrowded slum areas and barred Bidoon children from Kuwaiti schools.

In June 1999, the government introduced a program to naturalize about 11,000 Bidoon and grant permanent residence status to the remainder. The program would grant citizenship to Bidoon counted in the 1965 census who were more than 21 years old and whose parents naturalized, or who had a Kuwaiti mother. Bidoon not registered in the 1965 census would be granted permanent residency, permitting them access to employment, medical care, and educational benefits.

During USCR's 1999 site visit, however, various observers told USCR that the program was not likely to benefit the overwhelming majority of Bidoon. The government maintains that many Bidoon conceal their true nationality in order to become Kuwaiti citizens. The government's program requires Bidoon to reveal their nationality to receive residence permits, but most Bidoon insist they are from Kuwait and have no other nationality.

Of the Bidoon whom USCR interviewed during its October 1999 site visit, all maintained that they and their families had lived their entire lives in Kuwait and therefore would refuse any status short of citizenship. All complained that they were regularly harassed and faced other hardships because they lacked legal status.

Although UNHCR does not refer Bidoon for resettlement and recognizes that they lack durable solutions, the agency has assisted Bidoon in accordance with criteria set forth in the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. By year's end, 1,297 Bidoon had registered with UNHCR, which provided financial assistance, legal representation, and counseling to those seeking to restore their status. In 1999, the Kuwaiti government also agreed for the first time to discuss with UNHCR individual cases of Bidoon without legal status.

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