U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia


Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement from Saudi Arabia or physical danger to refugees there in 2006.

Late in the year, the Government announced it would allocate $500 million toward the construction of an elaborate, more than 500 mile-long (814 km), barbed-wire security fence along its northern border to keep out Iraqis. Construction was to begin in 2007 and take five years.

Saudi Arabia was not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Its 1993 Basic Law stated, "the State will grant political asylum, if so required by the public interest," but the country had no law for refugee status determination. Nevertheless, in its 1993 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Government agreed to "provide protection to refugees present in the Kingdom." Since 1998, UNHCR carried out refugee status determinations for asylum seekers on the Government's behalf and refugees received only temporary authorization to stay.

In 2006, UNHCR processed 184 claims for refugee status. At year's end, the country hosted 250 Iraqi and 400 Eritrean refugees, plus 240,000 Palestinian refugees. Though classified only as foreigners, UNHCR stated that some Palestinian refugees were gradually coming to enjoy "a more favorable treatment that still does not exist in the local legislation."

Reportedly, there were also an undetermined number of Myanmarese Muslims in the country holding Pakistani passports. They had arrived in the 1970s and under a 1986 agreement between the Muslim World League and the King to allow those fleeing from religious persecution in then-Burma to remain in Saudi Arabia for 14 years under any passport they could obtain and Pakistan agreed to provide them. Saudi Arabia was to naturalize them after that but reneged. There were also reportedly thousands of Myanmarese Muslims remaining in Saudi Arabia after arriving on pilgrimages under Bangladeshi passports.

Some 70,000 stateless Bidoon people also resided in Saudi Arabia without any formal legal status. Saudi authorities amended the 1954 Nationality Law in 2004 to allow qualified foreigners – presumably including refugees – who were fluent in Arabic, had lived in Saudi Arabia for ten or more years, had a clean criminal record, had a valuable vocation, and who were supporting themselves through legal means to apply for Saudi citizenship. This included the stateless Bidoon, but not Palestinians. Saudi Arabia reserved the right to revoke citizenship within ten years if a court convicted the person of a crime or he or she committed an act that disturbed public security. The Minister of Interior also reserved the right to deny citizenship to any foreigner even if they met all qualifications.

Detention/Access to Courts

Saudi authorities continued to confine 214 Eritrean refugees, all former military personnel, in the Jizan Coast Guard facility. The facility also held two more Eritrean fugitives who sought asylum in late December. By year's end, the United States accepted 172 of them for resettlement. UNHCR had regular access to the detained refugees and reported good conditions.

In consultation with UNHCR, the Saudi Interior Ministry issued identity documents, which authorities respected, to 161 Iraqi refugees. Saudi courts authenticated refugees' marriage documents.

The 1993 Basic Law extended to all individuals its protections against arbitrary deprivation of liberty and ex post facto punishment and explicitly extended to foreign residents access to court in civil matters.

Freedom of Movement

In late 2005, Iraqi refugees gained the right to leave Rafha refugee camp and, by the end of 2006, less than 100 Iraqis remained there. The Government confined the movement of the Eritrean refugees in Jizan. Foreigners required travel permits for specified distances and periods of time in order to move within the country.

Palestinians who left Saudi Arabia for six months or more could not return without acquiring a new employer or sponsor, a virtual impossibility from abroad.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The 1970 Residence Regulations required that foreigners have residence permits in order to work, with no exception for refugees. Residence permits, in turn, required sponsors. Refugees then had to obtain work permits, which cost around $1,300 (5,000 Riyals). According to the 1970 Residence Regulations, sponsors could cancel sponsorship for "legitimate reasons" and have the worker detained and deported. Foreigners could not change jobs without finding a new sponsor. Media reports announced an easing of employment restrictions for businessmen. The Government denied employment to the stateless Bidoon people due to their lack of citizenship or residence permits.

The 1993 Basic Law provided that "the State shall provide job opportunities to all able-bodied people," implicitly affirming the right of refugees to work.

Refugees enjoyed the same rights as other foreigners to engage in business, but even this required sponsorship. The 1993 Basic Law did not limit its protections of property rights to citizens.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees were ineligible for social security, although the Government did give Iraqi urban refugees some social services and subsistence aid. All refugees had access to education in Saudi Arabia. While the 1993 Basic Law promised job opportunities for "all able-bodied people," it reserved its guarantee of health services and social security to citizens. The 1993 MOU with UNHCR obliged Saudi Arabia to grant UNHCR access to refugees, and the Government cooperated with the agency and other humanitarian organizations and allowed them to aid refugees and asylum seekers.


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