Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2018, 16:17 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Kuwait

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Kuwait, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
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.

KWT figures


Although Kuwait continued to reject categorically Iraqi asylum seekers, it hosted around 45,000 Iraqis, most of whom entered on three-month visit visas and then overstayed. An estimated 6,000 Palestinians lived in Kuwait, many of them having arrived between 1948 and 1967, although the Government considered them expatriates. Kuwait hosted an undetermined number of Ahwazi Arabs from Iran.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement in 2007. Kuwait did not deport persons who claimed to fear persecution in their home countries. There were no reports of wrongful death of or injury to any refugees or asylum seekers in Kuwait.

The number of Iraqis contacting the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) continued to increase throughout 2007. In January, UNHCR estimated at 30,000 the number of Iraqis on visit visas, which offered the only way to enter Kuwait for asylum. Only 300 Iraqis had registered with UNHCR at the beginning of the year, but as many as 10 new cases opened each month, with most of the newcomers entering on 3-month visit visas. Many Iraqis returned to their country after their visas expired, reentering later to avoid violating Kuwaiti residency laws. Others contacted UNHCR, which intervened to prevent Kuwait from deporting asylum seekers. Since Kuwait immigration regulations prohibited local settlement, UNHCR submitted the cases for resettlement to third countries.

Kuwait was party to neither the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees nor its 1967 Protocol. There was no national system to determine refugee status, but the Government worked with UNHCR to allow some protection to refugees and asylum seekers. Kuwait ratified the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its two Protocols (the Protocol of Suppression and Punishment of Trafficking of Women and Children as well as the Protocol against Emigrant Trafficking). Kuwait was a destination country for trafficked persons, primarily from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines but also from Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Under the provision of the 1959 Alien Residence Law, Kuwait regarded refugees as foreign residents, reserving the right to deport them, like all foreigners, without trial, if they threatened public security, the public interest, or morals.

In March, UNHCR conducted a training course in refugee law for Ministry of Interior (MOI) personnel.

Detention/Access to Courts

In January, Kuwait's Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour detained 259 workers for violating residency laws, including 6 stateless persons and 3 on visit visas.

Kuwait detained asylum seekers, but did not forcibly return them to countries where they feared persecution.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

In March, Kuwait allowed UNHCR to build emergency camps to segregate potential refugee inflows from Iraq from the local population.

Security forces occasionally set up checkpoints to check for illegal immigrants and to detain undocumented aliens. Recognized "expatriates" (refugees) holding legal residence permits and UNHCR protection certificates could move freely throughout the country.

Although the Constitution provided for residents' rights of freedom of movement and residence, in practice some workers complained they could not leave their residential camps.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Recognized "expatriates" holding legal residence permits and UNHCR protection certificates could work under a Kuwaiti sponsor. Each national could sponsor up to five foreign workers.

The Government granted workers the right to unionize but excluded over half a million domestic servants and an unknown number of marine employees. It ruled further that each occupational trade could have only one union. Foreign private sector workers could join but not lead unions.

Foreign workers had to live under the sponsorship of a registered Kuwaiti company, and could not change employers without the latter's approval during their first two years in Kuwait.

Labor laws did not protect domestic workers from abuse. Police reportedly arrested and indefinitely detained dozens of domestic servants for alleged immigration violations after they ran away from abusive employers. They fell under the jurisdiction of the MOI rather than the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, which regarded such cases as criminal matters rather than labor disputes. Employers also routinely withheld passports and threatened deportation to pressure foreign employees to drop court cases against them.

In early 2008, a prominent opposition MP proposed doing away with sponsorship requirements for expatriates who had lived in Kuwait for 40 years or more.

Public Relief and Education

Kuwait did not have a system of public relief for foreigners. The neediest refugees received assistance from UNHCR, which assisted the Kuwaiti Red Crescent and the government-run Zakat House in providing basic humanitarian aid. Unlike nationals, foreigners had to pay yearly fees to the Ministry of Health for medical coverage to obtain or renew residency or work permits. They also had to pay additional fees each time they received medical care.

Search Refworld