U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Saudi Arabia

In addition to hosting the Gulf's largest population of Palestinian refugees (240,000), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Office in Saudi Arabia provided protection and or assistance to 5,400 other refugees, mostly Iraqi (5,200) in 2003. Other nationalities included Afghans (111), Somalis (36), Sudanese (8), and Eritreans (6).

Palestinians, who mostly had legal residence status, were not assisted or formally recognized as refugees by UNHCR. During 2003, UNHCR received applications from 128 asylum seekers, including applications from Somalis (38), Sudanese (18), Eritreans (16), and Liberians (15). By year's end, 42 applications – more than half of them Somali – were rejected, and most others remained pending.

The Riyadh office also facilitated refugee processing for neighboring countries of the Gulf. At the end of the year, 50 people awaited decisions on first-time applications for asylum in Qatar, 24 in Oman, and 1 in Bahrain.

Iraqi Repatriations from Rafha Camp

In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War and the failed uprising in southern Iraq, more than 33,000 Iraqis, mostly Shi'a, fled to Saudi Arabia. Most were eventually resettled in other countries, but the remaining 5,200 were confined to the desolate Rafha camp, located on a barren stretch of desert among the most prone in Saudi Arabia to dust storms and extremes of heat and cold.

Encouraged by the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in early 2003, Saudi authorities and UNHCR responded to the refugees' demands to return to Iraq. By year's end, more than 4,500 Iraqis voluntarily repatriated in 14 UNHCR-assisted convoys, leaving approximately 700 Iraqi refugees awaiting return after the new year. Also in the camp were about 100 Afghans, also forced from their homes in Iraq during the first Gulf War.


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