The announcement by Kuwait that it will not admit Iraqi refugees is a serious blow, as the UN's planning figure for Iraqis who will seek refuge in Kuwait is 50,000 and it is easy to imagine scenarios in which the number of refugees heading toward Kuwait would be much larger. The practical impact of the Kuwaiti announcement is that sites for refugee camps cannot be surveyed in advance. The Iraqi side of the border is believed to be heavily mined and thus potential refugees might face severe hazards from land mines. Moreover, relief agencies will be unable to prepare camps for refugees in advance of the outbreak of hostilities. The Kuwait/Iraq border is waterless desert and, thus, providing water to displaced Iraqis near the border will be an urgent priority to avoid loss of life.
The declaration of Kuwaiti refugee policy was made at a press conference with U.S. and British officials to announce the opening of the "Humanitarian Operations Center" (HOC) in Kuwait City. General Al-Mu'min, who is the Director of the HOC, said that the its objective "is to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations that will be called upon to assist the Iraqi people in the event of a conflict." Staffing of the HOC includes Kuwaiti officials and U.S. and British military officers. The HOC will "support United Nations humanitarian agencies, non-governmental organizations and other international organizations involved in relief assistance. The HOC will receive and share information on conditions within Iraq and provide updates in support of the humanitarian effort."
The official opening of the HOC and the arrival of USAID's DART teams of disaster specialists in Kuwait are welcome steps forward in preparing for the humanitarian consequences of a conflict in Iraq. However, the number of humanitarian aid agencies and personnel is still inadequate to meet the demands of a large humanitarian crisis in Iraq. More money from donors -- especially the United States and the United Kingdom -- is essential to enable UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to prepare. Further, the U.S. has significant political leverage with the Kuwaiti government and should employ it to press for Kuwait to agree to allow Iraqi refugees to find safety on their territory in the event of a conflict.