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2,000 Kuwaitis applied for EU asylum in last five years

Stateless Bidoon people protest against violation of their rights in Kuwait Creative Commons
Stateless Bidoon people protest against violation of their rights in Kuwait
  • Most applications from stateless Bidoon tribes in the north
  • Political asylum expected to rise even if economic situation improves

The European Union has received almost 2,000 asylum applications from Kuwait over the last five years, with academics speculating the majority of the applicants are from the Gulf state’s Bidoon tribes.

The EU Agency for Asylum reported that 1,925 Kuwaitis applied for asylum between 2017 and 2021, accounting for nearly three-quarters of the 2,630 nationals from the six Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) who applied over the same period.

The data also showed that 535 Kuwaitis applied for asylum in 2017, with the number falling to 440 in 2018, 455 in 2019, 265 in 2020, and 230 last year, as the coronavirus pandemic curbed international travel between the Gulf and Europe.

On average, about a quarter of Kuwaiti applicants were approved asylum by EU officials.

Greece was the main European destination of choice for Kuwaiti asylum seekers in 2017, while France has been the favourite since 2018.

Last year France remained the most popular, with 145 Kuwaiti applications, followed by Germany (35), Austria (15), Slovenia (10) and five each in Ireland and Romania.

The EU has data available for only the first four months of this year which showed that 100 applicants from Kuwait were lodged. It predicts 300 for the full year, a rise of nearly a third on 2021.

Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident scholar at The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington DC said she was surprised by the high number of asylum applications from Kuwait.

“Kuwaitis do not like to leave their country. All the Kuwaitis I’ve known, even ones that are very successful in their field, they go back to Kuwait mostly. I found it very surprising.”

However, Diwan said it was likely that the applicants were mostly from the Bidoon tribes in the north of the country.

“I would highly suspect that it’s the Bidoon. These are people that don’t have citizenship.

“As a policy, [the Kuwait government] decided to really squeeze this population,” she said.

Dr Farid Al-Salim, professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the American University in Dubai, agreed with this theory and said he was “not surprised by the increase in numbers from Kuwait,” adding that the Bidoon tribes are discriminated against and “are not considered Kuwaiti citizens, and do not enjoy any privileges even though they serve in the Kuwaiti army and police.” 

“I think that their situation has become more complicated and more difficult than before because the number of citizens has increased,” Al-Salim said. 

“Of the 1.8 million citizens about 700,000 are Bidoon, representing almost half of the population.”

The Bidoon are stateless tribes who live mainly in the north of Kuwait. In 1985, following the Gulf War and the invasion by Saddam Hussein’s troops, Bidoon, mainly those of Iraqi heritage, were reclassified as “illegal residents” and denied full Kuwaiti citizenship.

“It places them within a terrible limbo,” said Diwan. “I’ve seen a lot of attempts to get asylum cases in the US.”

With the number of Kuwaitis seeking EU asylum growing in 2022, Al-Salim said this was likely to continue.

“I think that the numbers claiming political asylum will increase in the future from Kuwait, even if the economic situation improves,” he said.

“It is a temporary improvement and the social and demographic problems still exist.”

Looking at other Gulf countries, the applicants were comparatively lower.

Saudi Arabia had 450 EU asylum applicants over the five years, followed by 115 from Bahrain, 75 from Oman, 60 from the UAE, and five from Qatar.

In terms of how successful asylum applicants were, 65 percent of Bahrainis were approved, followed by Saudis (54 percent), Emiratis (42 percent), Kuwaitis (25 percent), and Omanis (6.7 percent).

None of the five Qataris who have applied since 2017 were admitted.

Total number of asylum seekers from the GCC over the last five years

Country201720182019202020212022
(Jan-Apr)
Bahrain35302020105
Kuwait535440455265230100
Oman6505050
Qatar005000
Saudi Arabia13090100508045
UAE2015100150

Source: European Union Agency for Asylum

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