Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2017, 11:13 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Kuwait

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Kuwait , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 24 November 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.

More than 65,000 refugees were living in Kuwait in 2002, including an estimated 50,000 Palestinians, 15,000 Iraqis, and small numbers of refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia, and other countries. Figures can only be roughly estimated, however, because Kuwait does not recognize refugees, although it tolerates the presence of some foreigners as part of its expatriate labor force. About 120,000 stateless Arabs, known as Bidoon, also lived in Kuwait during the year.

Refugee Law and Procedure

Kuwait is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention and has no national legislation relating to refugees or any procedure for adjudicating refugee claims. In 1996, the Kuwaiti national assembly ratified an agreement signed by the Kuwaiti government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) specifying UNHCR's mandate for the protection of refugees in Kuwait. UNHCR is responsible for adjudicating refugee claims, conducting refugee determination interviews, and allowing asylum seekers to appeal negative decisions. The Ministry of Interior, in turn, put its seal on UNHCR protection letters. UNHCR assists refugees based on individual assessments and cooperates with the Kuwaiti Red Crescent and Zakat House, an independent but government-supervised humanitarian agency that also provides assistance.

In spite of impending war with Iraq, very few refugees arrived in Kuwait during 2002, in part because it is harder for undocumented asylum seekers to cross the border from Iraq and remain in Kuwait than to do so than other countries in the region, such as Turkey, Jordan, and Syria. Most refugees in Kuwait are long-term residents who only sought UNHCR's protection after Kuwaiti authorities refused to renew their residence permits, leaving them vulnerable to detention and deportation.

Although UNHCR occasionally works to reunify Palestinian refugees in Kuwait with family members in other Middle Eastern countries, the agency generally does not resettle Palestinians outside the region.


There are around 120,000 stateless persons known as Bidoon (literally, "without") in Kuwait, denied the rights and benefits that Kuwaiti citizens enjoy. Most are Bedouins from the northern Arabian Peninsula who settled in Kuwait after 1920, when the modern political boundaries between the various states of the region were drawn. Many Bidoon have lived in Kuwait their entire lives, but 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, although the government agreed in 2001 to grant citizenship to children of Kuwaiti widows or divorcees previously married to Bidoon men. There are also a number of Arab and Persian migrants from the eastern coast of the Gulf who have resided in Kuwait since the 1940s without Kuwaiti citizenship. Kuwait issued its first law on nationality in 1959 – before the British withdrew from the emirate and before parliament was established.

After independence in 1961, the government was reluctant to consider all those applying for Kuwaiti citizenship. The list of applicants grew to between 220,000 and 350,000 on the eve of the Iraqi invasion in 1990. After the 1991 war, the government harassed and deported many to Iraq – often without a hearing and most commonly for alleged collaboration with the Iraqis during occupation – reducing the population to around 120,000. Many of those deported remain stateless in Iraq and other countries. Kuwait also fired Bidoon from government jobs many had held before the war.

In May 2000, Kuwait's parliament voted to ease the citizenship requirements to about 36,000 Bidoon who registered in a 1965 census. However, it limited the number of that group who could naturalize to no more than 2,000 per year. The government announced that the remaining Bidoon would not be eligible for citizenship and were required to regularize their status with the authorities by June 27, 2000 or face deportation. To regularize their status, Bidoon had to obtain passports from their countries of origin in order to be permitted to stay in Kuwait.

In 2002, Kuwait made limited progress toward solving the long-standing issue of Bidoon. In July, however, the authorities stated that the government would not allow more than 600 Bidoon to apply for citizenship.

By early 2002, the government reportedly had counted some 80,000 Bidoon cases. These included the 36,000 registered in the 1965 census and an additional 8,000 registered in June 2000 who were eligible to apply for citizenship. The government considers the remaining 36,000 Bidoon to be illegal aliens, maintaining that many are citizens of other countries and are concealing their nationality in order to obtain Kuwaiti citizenship. Persons in this group may apply for five-year residence permits and other benefits, but must come forward and declare themselves to be citizens of other countries in order to do so.

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