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

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Saudi Arabia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 14 June 2006
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Saudi Arabia , 14 June 2006, available at: [accessed 22 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.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement during 2005.

Saudi Arabia was not party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and had no law on refugees. The 1992 Basic Law stated, "the State will grant political asylum ... if the public interest mitigates" in favor of it. Since 1998, the Saudi Government permitted the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to carry out refugee status determinations for asylum seekers. In 2005, UNHCR reported that "enhanced understanding of [international] refugee law among [Saudi] decision makers," had led to "better respect of basic protection principles, mainly non-refoulement."

In April, Saudi Arabia beheaded six Somali nationals, at least one of whom was a refugee who traveled to Saudi Arabia from a Kenyan refugee camp. The six had served six years for beating and robbing a taxi driver and authorities did not warn them that they would execute them.

Saudi authorities moved in 2004 to allow qualified foreigners – presumably including refugees – who were fluent in Arabic, had lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 or more years, had a clean criminal record, and were able to support themselves financially to apply for Saudi citizenship. This included some 70,000 stateless Bidoon but not Palestinians. They also had to meet religious requirements, and Saudi Arabia reserved the right to revoke citizenship within 10 years in cases where courts convict them of crimes or they commit immoral acts.

Detention/Access to Courts

Saudi Arabia continued to detain seven Iraqi refugees for stealing, leaving Rafha camp without permission, or smuggling. UNHCR had free access to Rafha's detention center and the central prison and conducted regular visits to monitor the condition of the detainees. UNHCR reported the conditions of the facilities as satisfactory.

There were no reports of punishment for illegal entry.

The nongovernmental National Society for Human Rights, the first legal human rights organization in the country, albeit under government patronage, monitored and reported on prison conditions.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Male refugees with current residence permits enjoyed freedom of movement. Saudi law prohibited all women, including refugees, from driving. Women had to have written permission from a male relative or guardian in order to travel abroad or obtain their own identity cards.

In late 2005, Saudi Arabia announced that the 364 Iraqis remaining in Rafha camp could leave the camp and live legally in urban areas. Previously, authorities had only permitted camp residents to visit a nearby urban center under the "Rafha City Visits Program" and had controlled refugees' movements in and out of the camp.

The Government neither issued nor permitted UNHCR to issue international travel documents to refugees.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Foreign workers, including refugees, had to have Saudi sponsors, with the exception of nationals from the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait. Foreigners could not change jobs without their sponsor's permission, and Palestinian refugees had to pay the equivalent of $1,600 (6,000 Riyals) to change sponsors. Iraqi refugees formerly confined to Rafha camp could pursue livelihoods on par with other refugees and foreigners.

The law prohibited sponsors from keeping workers' passports, but they routinely did so in order to control workers' movement within and departure from the country. In some cases, sponsors asked the Government to prohibit workers' departure or to deport them to gain advantage in unsettled labor disputes. Terminated foreign employees automatically lost their residency rights and other privileges. Employers subjected foreign workers to oppressive conditions, including 16-hour days without breaks and confinement to barracks when not working.

Although the 1992 Basic Law stated that "Both citizens and foreign residents have an equal right to litigation," foreigners had difficulty exercising that right. The labor courts often sided with workers whose wages employers had withheld, but the process could take months and workers pursuing such suits were often not able to work.

Foreigners could not freely invest in Saudi Arabia. Saudi sponsors retained all rights and ownership of foreigners' business ventures, and reportedly cheated them from time to time.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees in Rafha camp received regular food rations, treated water, and medical services in an on-site clinic. The clinic transferred more urgent medical cases to hospitals in Riyadh or elsewhere as needed.

UNHCR had free access to all refugees in Rafha camp, but not to asylum seekers in urban areas without legal status.

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