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Kuwait’s six-decade billion-dollar mission to help refugees, developing countries

It was more than six decades ago – in 1961 – that the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) was established with the goal of helping further economic and social progress in developing nations through financial and technical support.

The Fund has granted more than $1.2billion (379 million Kuwaiti Dinar) in loans and aid to hundreds of countries around the world – including Arab, Asian, African, European and South American nations – with more than 388 grants given to nation-changing projects, including financing of transportation, electrical power, water, agricultural and industrial initiatives.

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Standing by the needy

One of the biggest recipients of KFAED aid has been refugees across the globe, deputy director of operations for international organizations at KFAED, Khaled al-Khaled, told Al Arabiya English.

From Rohingya families in Bangladesh refugee camps to refugees in Palestine and Lebanon and survivors of violence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, tens of thousands of distressed people from strife-torn lands across the Arab and wider world have benefitted from the Fund.

KFAED’s mission has never been more vital than in recent years, as the world faces an unprecedented refugee crisis. With conflict, natural disasters and socio-economic instability displacing millions of people, KFAED has stepped up its efforts to throw a lifeline at those in need.

Notably, KFAED has forged a strategic alliance with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and has made significant contributions to global humanitarian endeavors. Its commitment has translated into substantial support for UNHCR’s field operations, specifically geared toward safeguarding and aiding refugees and internally displaced persons.

One of the biggest recipients of aid has been refugees across the globe, Khaled Alkhaled, deputy director of operations for international organizations at the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED), says. (Supplied)

One of the biggest recipients of aid has been refugees across the globe, Khaled Alkhaled, deputy director of operations for international organizations at the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED), says. (Supplied)

Among the impactful projects championed by the Kuwait Fund is the initiative to ameliorate the living conditions of Syrian refugees situated in northern Iraq, where a staggering population of more than 230,000 Syrian refugees predominantly resides within the Kurdistan region.

In this endeavor, the Kuwait Fund extended a grant of $10 million to UNHCR, earmarked for enhancing access to fundamental necessities such as water, sanitation, healthcare, shelter and solar lighting across five camps accommodating approximately 97,000 Syrian refugees in Dohuk and Erbil.

This initiative aspires not only to elevate the dignity and well-being of the refugees but also to bolster their resilience and self-sufficiency.

Furthermore, the Kuwait Fund has consistently been a significant contributor to the humanitarian response in Syria. In 2015, Kuwait held the distinction of being the largest per capita donor globally and ranked as the sixth-largest overall donor to UNHCR. By 2016, Kuwait had already contributed a total of $360 million to UNHCR, benefitting both the Syrian as well as the Iraqi crises.

‘A beacon for international collaboration’

Al-Khaled told Al Arabiya English that, with a history of benevolence, KFAED has consistently exemplified Kuwait’s dedication to alleviating global crises and fostering international cooperation.

“The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development serves as a beacon of Kuwait’s commitment to international collaboration,” he said. “It aims to drive economic and social progress in developing nations, offering financial and technical support to developing nations. With an active role in international development efforts, the Fund is focused on diverse sectors, including infrastructure, healthcare, education and most notably, humanitarian assistance.”

Al-Khaled said the Fund particularly strives to help refugees and displaced people across the Arab world and beyond.

“Refugees often find themselves in dire circumstances due to conflicts, socio-political upheavals, and natural disasters,” he said, adding that the Kuwait Fund’s inclination towards aiding refugees stems from a deeply rooted philosophy of solidarity, empathy and a sense of shared humanity. “By assisting refugees, the Fund aims to not only provide immediate relief but also to sow the seeds for long-term peace, reconciliation, socio-economic stability and development,” he said.

Helping regions in dire need

Over the years, the Fund’s initiatives have prioritized regions and communities in urgent need of aid.

In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, KFAED has made significant strides to improve the living conditions for the Rohingya refugees. This region hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, primarily consisting of Rohingya Muslims, who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar. These refugees require immediate access to essentials such as food, clean water and shelter. Overcrowded camps, inadequate sanitation facilities and limited healthcare services pose significant challenges to their well-being.

Education is another critical need, especially for the younger population. “Our involvement has facilitated the construction of over 1,200 shelters, coupled with the distribution of essential household items and solar lighting systems,” explained al-Khaled. “Moreover, we’ve established educational centers and mosques and have set into motion health initiatives, including the operation of three health centers and the training of workers on crucial health awareness topics.”

Closer to home, KFAED has been working to provide aid to Palestinian refugees, which remains a pressing humanitarian imperative. Decades of conflict, displacement and political turmoil have left millions of Palestinians in a hapless situation – often without access to basic necessities such as clean water, healthcare, education and proper shelter.

Many Palestinian refugees live in overcrowded and substandard conditions in camps across the Middle East, struggling to make ends meet with limited economic opportunities.

Al-Khaled said the provision of aid and grants not only addresses immediate and essential needs but also plays a crucial role in upholding the dignity and human rights of Palestinian refugees and is a vital step toward fostering stability and security in the region.

“In Palestine, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), a UN agency that supports relief and human development of Palestinian refugees. This association has helped generate resources to empower Palestine refugees, promote their self-reliance and enhance accessibility to vital sectors such as education and healthcare.

Aiding physiological needs

KFAED’s commitment has also extended to Iraq where, in collaboration with UNHCR, the Fund has established a new registration center in the Kurdistan Region, in Erbil, where they help refugees suffering from the psychological impact of surviving a conflict and being displaced from home.

“This center serves as a pivotal point for registration and protection services,” explained al-Khaled. “Refugees can access vital information, seek legal assistance and specialized psychosocial services, especially catering to the survivors of violence,” he said.

The center streamlines the process for refugees, enabling them to secure humanitarian residency permits, thereby regularizing their presence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Every month, some 24,000 refugees benefit from the center, where they have immediate access to both public and humanitarian services, al-Khaled said.

“Moreover, the building that houses the registration center will eventually serve as a secondary school, a reflection of our collective commitment, along with the Kurdish government and UNHCR, to prioritize education for the vulnerable,” he added.

It was more than six decades ago – in 1961 – that the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) was established with the goal of helping further economic and social progress in developing nations through financial and technical support. (Supplied)

It was more than six decades ago – in 1961 – that the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) was established with the goal of helping further economic and social progress in developing nations through financial and technical support. (Supplied)

Furthermore, KFAED, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has committed to advancing environmental and community health in Lebanon, a country that is hosting a vast number of Syrian refugees through grants to enhance solid waste management.

“By providing $2.5 million in support, the Fund aims to establish a new waste management facility and responsibly shut down an unauthorized dumpsite associated with environmental and health threats,” said al-Khaled.

“Specifically targeting areas with high concentrations of Syrian refugees, the project not only mitigates environmental hazards, but also offers economic opportunities to local communities. Through these efforts, the initiative ensures improved living conditions and socio-economic prospects for refugees and the broader Lebanese community.”

The Fund has financed projects in the Al Azza Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, providing healthcare and clean water to residents, while another project focused on the health and well-being of mothers and newborns in the conflict-affected areas of Yemen.

Powering long-lasting change

“Through these ventures, we have consistently endeavored to make long-lasting positive impacts on the lives of the refugees we serve across different regions,” said al-Khaled.

The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) was established with the goal of helping further economic and social progress in developing nations through financial and technical support. (Supplied)

The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) was established with the goal of helping further economic and social progress in developing nations through financial and technical support. (Supplied)

He said KFAED employs a multifaceted approach when deciding on the priority areas to focus its attention on and allocate funding and grants.

“This includes detailed analyses, studying the magnitude and extent of needs, assessing the socio-economic conditions, and also factoring in requests from the affected countries or international bodies,” he explained. “Our collaboration with specialized UN Agencies and other partners on the ground provides us with these critical analyses and serves as a major source of information for our depiction-making process.

“There’s also a continuous monitoring and evaluation process to ensure assistance provided remains relevant and effective,” he further said.

International collaboration

The Kuwait Fund is deeply committed to collaborative cooperation, said al-Khaled.

“Recognizing that collective action magnifies its impact, the Fund frequently aligns with reputed global organizations, including the UNHCR, UNDP, UNRWA, and other specialized agencies. These partnerships – underpinned by shared expertise, resources, and on-ground networks – ensure that every dollar spent is maximized for efficacy.”

Al-Khaled said KFAED’s approach to assistance is comprehensive, with financial aid being just one of its many facets.

“Financial support often takes the form of loans and grants designed to facilitate infrastructure and development projects, including constructing shelters, educational establishments, and healthcare facilities, which lay the foundation for sustainable living conditions,” he said. “Simultaneously, we prioritize capacity-building endeavors, such as training programs.”

These initiatives focus on enhancing health awareness, fostering skill development and strengthening community resilience.

“This multi-pronged approach ensures that refugees not only have immediate support, but also have access to the tools and knowledge to face the intricacies of displacement and subsequent integration. We strive to focus as much as possible on our interventions within the development-humanitarian nexus that we are all invited to contribute to in these contexts,” al-Khaled said, adding that through such an approach, the Fund’s vision transcends short-term relief.

“It aspires for a future where refugees are not only safeguarded against pressing adversities, but are also empowered to lead fulfilling lives, endowed with dignity, autonomy and opportunities,” he said.

Each project, be it the multifunctional center in Erbil or the extensive support in Cox’s Bazar, resonates with this long-term commitment to reshape the narrative of displacement into one of hope, resilience, and sustainable development, al-Khaled said.

“By forging alliances with local NGOs, government bodies and community leaders, KFAED ensures that its interventions are culturally nuanced, contextually aligned and sustainable.”

“This local-global partnership model ensures that the positive outcomes of the Fund’s assistance persist long beyond the immediate project timelines, creating legacies of change and transformation,” al-Khaled said.

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