Kuwait figures


Although Kuwait continued to reject categorically Iraqi asylum seekers, it hosted around 35,000 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.

Due to Kuwait's 1959 nationalization law, an estimated 80,000-140,000 people in Kuwait, called bidoon or bidoon jinsiya (Arabic for "without nationality") are stateless. The law established that only individuals settled before 1920 or with "sufficient ties" to the country would be considered nationals. As a result of the law and subsequent provisions, approximately 100,000 biduns, a majority of whom are Palestinian or Iraqi refugees, members of Bedouin tribes, and their descendents, in Kuwait are still left without legal status.

2008 Summary

There were no reports of refoulement in 2008. 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 Kuwaiti government did not officially grant refugee or asylum status throughout 2008. During the year Kuwait granted citizenship to 573 bidoon after determining sufficient ties to the country. However, over 80,000 citizenship requests by bidoon lacking substantial proof of ties were still pending at the end of 2008. The government maintained that a majority of bidoon were hiding their actual origins.

In July, thousands of migrant workers, mostly from Bangladesh, held protests for better working conditions and pay. The police used force to disperse the protests rounded up and later deported roughly 1,000. After the protests, the Government introduced a minimum wage for cleaners and security guards working for companies with Government contracts.

In November, the Council of Ministers revoked Kuwaiti citizenship from five individuals whom they deemed ineligible for citizenship. Despite the government's investigation of the cases, no additional information had been provided at the end of 2008.

Law and Policy

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Kuwait is party to neither the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees nor its 1967 Protocol. There is no national system to determine refugee status, but the Government works 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 is a destination country for trafficked persons, primarily from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines but also from Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Kuwaiti law prohibits the deportation or forced exile of citizens, however the government can revoke citizenship and deport individuals for various causes including felony conviction.

The only way to enter Kuwait for asylum is on 3-month visit visas. Many return to their country after their visas expire, reentering later to avoid violating Kuwaiti residency laws. Others contact UNHCR, which intervenes to prevent Kuwait from deporting asylum seekers.

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

Since Kuwait immigration regulations prohibit local settlement, UNHCR submits the cases for resettlement to third countries.

Detention/Access to Courts

Kuwait detains refugees and asylum seekers until they agree to return or make other travel plans, rarely granting them residence and the right to work in Kuwait.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Kuwait generally provides for freedom of movement within the country; however, there are numerous laws constraining foreign travel, and the government placed some limits on freedom of movement through arbitrary travel bans, particularly for the "bidoon". Some laborers reported in 2008 that they were not allowed to leave the residential camps where they lived.

The Government did not cooperate with the UNHCR or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, or the bidoon.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Kuwaiti laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status and rarely grants them the right to live and work in the country.

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

The Government grants workers the right to unionize but excludes over half a million domestic servants and an unknown number of marine employees. It rules further that each occupational trade can have only one union. Foreign private sector workers can join but not lead unions. Foreign workers have to live under the sponsorship of a registered Kuwaiti company, and cannot change employers without the latter's approval during their first two years in Kuwait.

Labor laws do not protect domestic workers from abuse. They fall under the jurisdiction of the MOI rather than the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, which regards such cases as criminal matters rather than labor disputes.

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

Public Relief and Education

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


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