U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia


Refoulement/Asylum  There were no reports of refoulement although Saudi Arabia had no effective law on refugees. The 1992 Basic Law stated that "the State will grant political asylum...if the public interest mitigates" in favor of it. Since 1998, the Saudi Government had permitted the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to carry out refugee status determinations for asylum seekers.

Saudi authorities moved to allow qualified foreigners – presumably including refugees – who met strict language, residency, and religious requirements to apply for Saudi citizenship. This, however, reportedly did not include Palestinians.

Detention  There were no reports of punishment for illegal entry. For unspecified reasons, however, authorities detained some Iraqis among the longstanding Iraqi refugees in Rafha camp. UNHCR had free access to the camp detention center and central prison, conducted regular visits to monitor the condition of the detainees and to follow up on their cases, and reported that conditions in the facilities were satisfactory. The Government created the National Society for Human Rights, the first legally sanctioned human-rights organization in the country, primarily to monitor prison conditions.

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.

The law prohibited sponsors from keeping workers' passports, but they routinely did so to control workers' movements within and out of Saudi Arabia. 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. Although the 1992 Basic Law stated that "Both citizens and foreign residents have an equal right to litigation," foreigners rarely exercised this right. Iraqi refugees confined to Rafha camp could run a few shops and restaurants and raise sheep and birds, but little else.

Foreigners could not freely invest in Saudi Arabia. Saudi sponsors retained all rights and ownership of foreigners' business ventures, and reportedly cheated them on a number of occasions.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  While most refugees in Saudi Arabia could live in cities and towns across the country, the Government confined a group of refugees from the Eritrean military pending a durable solution to their cases. Some 400 Iraqi refugees also remained confined in Rafha camp. Authorities permitted camp residents to visit a nearby urban center under the "Rafha City Visits Program," but controlled refugees' movements in and out of the camp, which was located in a highly militarized zone and regularly patrolled with a nightly curfew.

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. Male urban refugees who held current residence permits enjoyed freedom of movement. The Government neither issued nor permitted UNHCR to issue international travel documents to refugees.

Public Relief and Education  Rafha camp residents had free primary and secondary education following the Saudi curriculum. During the year, however, the repatriation of most camp residents led authorities to close the camp schools. Refugees in the Rafha camp received regular food rations, treated water, and healthcare 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 urban asylum seekers without legal status.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants


This 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.