Benevolent Kuwait: Examining Kuwait’s Foreign Aid Mechanisms through the Case Study of its Syrian Crisis Response

By Irene Gibson
Submitted to Session P4980 (Humanitarianism and the Syrian Crisis, 2017 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
Gulf Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
As Syrian refugees overwhelm countries surrounding Syria and flood to Europe, many accuse the Gulf States of not playing a large enough role in the Syrian refugee crisis. Such accusations are part of a wider tradition of criticizing and ignoring the impact of Gulf aid. Kuwait offers a case through which to examine Gulf aid, as Kuwait exemplifies the duality of the Gulf; while it refuses to accept any Syrian refugees, Kuwait is recognized as a regional leader in Syrian refugee aid. Kuwaiti aid is also characteristic of Gulf aid in that it depends upon intensely personal relationships to develop aid networks. This study examines how Kuwait responds to the Syrian refugee crisis through a descriptive analysis of its aid networks and policies. It argues for specific policy shifts for the Kuwaiti government, UN, and informal aid organizations. Analysis focuses on Kuwait’s five main aid channels – government, UN, NGO, volunteer team, and ambiguous – that address the Syrian crisis, and examines how they operate amongst, within, and without each other.

This research relies predominantly on seventeen personal interviews of twenty-three aid practitioners and experts conducted in Kuwait in April and May 2016. Insight gained from official meetings, informal discussions with experts, and a UNHCR internship in Kuwait supplement these interviews. Limited information was found in academic reports, government reports, government websites, UN databases, UN reports, and newspapers.

It is important to understand the mechanisms by which aid operates in its endemic Arab pathways. First, such understanding highlights power structures in economics, politics, and societies. Second, examining alternative mechanisms of aid challenges Western definitions and values in humanitarian work, enabling the opportunity for improvement and expansion in the field. In this sense, perhaps the most important challenge this study can bring is to question the assumed neutrality of aid, which upon further scrutiny is far less inherent. This understanding is not only important when considering the future of the Syrian crisis, but also when preparing for and making use of Kuwait’s potential role in future humanitarian crises, particularly those in the Middle East. Limiting the definition of what aid can be reported limits our understanding of the realities on the ground.