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Palestinian exodus from Kuwait (1990–91)

The Palestinian exodus from Kuwait took place during and after the Gulf War. There were 400,000 Palestinians in Kuwait before the Gulf War. During the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, 200,000 Palestinians left Kuwait due to various reasons (fear of persecution,[1] food shortages, medical care difficulties, financial shortages, fear of arrest and mistreatment at roadblocks by Iraqis).[1][2][3] After the Gulf War of 1991, nearly 200,000 Palestinians fled Kuwait, partly due to economic burdens, regulations on residence and fear of abuse by Kuwaiti security forces.[4][5][6] The policy which partly led to this exodus was a response to the alignment of PLO leader Yasser Arafat with Saddam Hussein.

Palestinian refugees from Kuwait
Total Palestinian refugees fled from Kuwait: 150,000-200,000
Total refugees in 1991: 200,000
Regions with significant populations:  Jordan

 State of Palestine

Languages: Arabic
Religions: Sunni Islam, Christianity

The Palestinians who fled Kuwait were mostly Jordanian citizens.[7] Only in 2004, the political situation between Kuwaiti and Palestinian leadership improved with official apology of Mahmud Abbas on PLO support of the Iraqi invasion in 1991. In 2012, the official Palestinian embassy in Kuwait was re-opened.[8] In 2012, 80,000 Palestinians lived in Kuwait.[8]


Before the Gulf War, Palestinians numbered 400,000 of Kuwait's total population of 2 million.[9]

Palestinians arrived in Kuwait in three different phases - 1948, 1967 and 1975. In the 1980s, Palestinian Arabs constituted the bulk of labor force.[citation needed]


During Iraqi occupationEdit

The massive exodus of Palestinians from Kuwait began with the Iraqi invasion into the country in summer 1990. The exodus included both Kuwaitis and Palestinians, who were forming a large percentage of Kuwaiti residents. Out of initial 350,000 people of Palestinian descent who resided in Kuwait in mid-1990, more than 200,000 fled Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, due to harassment and intimidation by Iraqi security forces, in addition to getting fired from work by Iraqi authority figures in Kuwait.[2] The Iraqi education ministry in Kuwait fired 3,000 Palestinians in September 1990,[2] and the dismissals of Palestinians from other sectors continued throughout October.[2] The Iraqis also put pressure on the PLO office in Kuwait,[2] which had refused to organize any Palestinian demonstrations and rallies in support of Iraq.[2] The only Palestinian demonstration in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation was actually a pro-Kuwait demonstration, with the Palestinian inhabitants of the Hawalli district waving photos of the Emir.[2]

March 1991 exodusEdit

Kuwait's lack of support for Palestinians after the Gulf War was a response to the alignment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO with Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait. On March 14, 1991, 200,000 Palestinians were still residing in Kuwait, out of initial 400,000.[10] Palestinians began leaving Kuwait during one week in March 1991, following Kuwait's liberation from Iraqi occupation. During a single week in March, the Palestinian population of Kuwait had almost entirely fled the country. Kuwaitis said that Palestinians leaving the country could move to Jordan, since most Palestinians held Jordanian passports.[10] According to the New York Times, Kuwaitis said the anger against Palestinians was such that there was little chance that those who had left during the seven-month occupation could ever return and relatively few of those remaining will be able to stay.[10]


The Palestinians who fled Kuwait were generally Jordanian citizens.[7] They were formally recognized as Jordanians of Palestinian origin.[7]

In 2004, Kuwait allegedly put off a planned visit by Mahmoud Abbas, then the number two PLO official after Arafat.[11] Palestinian officials denied reports that this was because he would not apologize for Arafat's support for the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.[11] However, on December 12, 2004, Abbas, now the Palestinian leader, apologized for the PLO's support of Saddam Hussein during the invasion.[12] On the first visit to Kuwait by a top Palestinian official since the invasion by Iraq, Abbas said: "I say we yes, we apologize over our stand towards Kuwait."

In 2012, there were 80,000 Palestinians living in Kuwait.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Schulz, Helena Lindholm (2005-07-27). The Palestinian Diaspora. p. 67. ISBN 9781134496686. During autumn 1990 more than half of the Palestinians in Kuwait fled as a result of fear or persecution.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "The PLO in Kuwait". May 8, 1991. But in September and October 1990, large numbers of Palestinians began to leave. In addition to the fear of arrest, and their mistreatment at roadblocks by Iraqis, food shortages were becoming serious and medical care difficult. Kuwaitis and Palestinians alike were penniless - they were forced to sell their cars and electrical appliances at improvised markets to anyone who had cash, even to Iraqi civilians coming from Iraq to buy on the cheap. Thus, by December 1990, Kuwait's Palestinian population had dwindled from a pre-invasion strength of 350,000 to approximately 150,000.
  3. ^ Islamkotob. "History of Palestine". p. 100.
  4. ^ Mattar, Philip (2005). Encyclopedia of the Palestinians. pp. 289–290. ISBN 9780816069866.
  5. ^ Schulz, Helena Lindholm (2005-07-27). The Palestinian Diaspora. p. 67. ISBN 9781134496686. Regulations on residence were considerably tightened and the general environment of insecurity triggered a continuous Palestinian exodus.
  6. ^ Kuwait: Building the Rule of Law: Human Rights in Kuwait. 1992-01-01. p. 35. ISBN 9780934143493. There was a great exodus of Palestinians from Kuwait during July and August, partly attributable to fear of abusive actions by the Kuwaiti security forces, but also brought about by economic necessity.
  7. ^ a b c Yann Le Troquer and Rozenn Hommery al-Oudat (Spring 1999). "From Kuwait to Jordan: The Palestinians' Third Exodus". Journal of Palestine Studies. 28 (3): 37–51. doi:10.2307/2538306. JSTOR 2538306.
  8. ^ a b c "Palestinians Open Kuwaiti Embassy". Al Monitor. 23 May 2013.
  9. ^ Journal of Palestine Studies: Palestinians in Kuwait (1991) by Anne M Lesch.
  10. ^ a b c AFTER THE WAR: Kuwait; Palestinians in Kuwait Face Suspicion and Probable Exile - New York Times
  11. ^ a b Palestine apology to Kuwait - Telegraph
  12. ^ Abbas apology to Kuwait over Iraq, BBC News, December 12, 2004