An aerial view showing a part of Salmiya.

By Chidi Emmanuel

There seems to be diverging views over the InterNations 2020 ranking that rated Salmiya “the worst city for expats” in the entire globe. While some expats rejected this description, many felt Salmiya got what it deserved. Despite the bubbly nature of Salmiya, which has a beautiful coastline, the Scientific Center, Marina Mall and other shopping centers, InterNations – a global social network – in its latest research placed Salmiya at the bottom (66th), thus declaring it the worst city in the world for expats to live and work.

Other worst cities: Rome (65th), Seoul (64th), Milan (63rd), Nairobi (62nd), Paris (61st), Johannesburg (60th), Santiago de Chile (59th), Dublin (58th) and Hong Kong (57th). According to the survey, expats in Salmiya say they are unhappy with the local transportation (61st) and their health and environment (66th), as well as with climate and leisure (66th).

On the other hand, InterNations placed Abu Dhabi 10th globally, ahead of its neighbor Dubai (20th) and Muscat (14th), Riyadh (42nd) and Jeddah (52nd). These cities were ranked on information about five areas of expat life – quality of urban living, getting settled, urban work life, finance and housing, and local cost of living. The data was collected in March 2020, just before coronavirus turned into a global pandemic. Meanwhile, on the list of best cities, the Spanish city of Valencia came on top, followed by Alicante, Lisbon, Panama City, Singapore, Malaga, Buenos Aires, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid and Abu Dhabi in 10th place.

Reacting to the report, some Salmiya residents voiced their total disapproval of the report, while many agreed with it. “I have lived in Kuwait for over 17 years; I think the report totally represents the views of the people living here. The traffic is so frustrating. More so, most of the houses here (in Salmiya) are getting old – and lack maintenance. This is not the Salmiya of 17 years ago that we used to call the Dubai of Kuwait,” lamented Rina, a Filipina.

A view of the beach and adjacent buildings in Salmiya.

Buttressing Rina’s viewpoint, her husband (who prefers to remain anonymous), blamed a lack of planning and the large influx of people from Farwaniya and Khaitan as the cause of the problem. “A lot of people moved from Farwaniya and Khaitan to Salmiya in recent years. There are additional structures and partitions now in most buildings. This is choking everything and straining the infrastructure. A building meant for 20 people is now housing over a hundred people,” he said, adding that most foreigners are really not happy with their quality of life here.

Farouk Kamal, a Pakistani expat, blamed what he called the “decay of Salmiya” on the dirty lifestyle of some of the foreigners living there. “Most of the buildings in Salmiya are very filthy. People hang their dirty clothes in the corridors and even on the staircase – thereby making the whole place look unkempt. In the elevators of most buildings, you can visibly see disgusting red salivary substances. All these are causing the decay of Salmiya,” he pointed out.

On the other hand, Tony Albeit and his friends completely disagreed with the InterNations 2020 ranking. “First of all, Salmiya is not a city. If InterNations was talking about Jleeb or Mahboula, I would have agreed to an extent – but not Salmiya. Salmiya is one of the best areas of Kuwait. Although it is congested, it still didn’t deserve the worst rating,” Tony argued.

Supporting Tony’s view, Felix Thomas, an Indian expat, slammed the InterNations ranking as completely flawed. “I was expecting cities like Mumbai, Dhaka, Manila, etc to be in the bottom 10. How can Salmiya – which is even seen as the Dubai of Kuwait – be ‘the worst city for expats’?” he queried. His friends voiced similar objections as they waited for a meeting in Salmiya.

Salmiya is an area in Hawally Governorate divided into 12 blocks. The blocks located closer to the interior of the district tend to be mostly residential, while those located besides the Arabian Gulf coastline have a great deal of commercial and upscale residential real estate. The residential areas are home to a huge population of foreigners, consisting mainly of expats from the Indian subcontinent, Filipinos, Arabs, Westerners and Africans. Salmiya’s population is estimated to be around 220,000.