As EU countries are in search of a solution to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis that is unprecedented in recent years, the Gulf States have come under growing pressure for not providing more help for people fleeing Syria – an accusation these countries reject. In the Arab world itself, the opinion that they are not doing enough is widespread. Those countries, however, may not really be suitable destinations for the asylum seekers. The logic behind Gulf refugee policies is complex. In smaller Gulf States like Qatar and the UAE, foreigners already far outnumber nationals, a demographic balance that, for some, feeds feelings of anxiety tinged with xenophobia. In the UAE, foreign nationals outnumber citizens by more than five to one.
The refugee crisis reveals the two very different schools of thoughts operating in the migrant crisis. In the West the leaders view it as a humanitarian crisis that must be resolved by opening these borders. Open borders are a necessary sacrifice in order to live up to liberal democratic ideals. What better way to show off your love of humanity than to let thousands of migrants stream over your border without prior permission? Saudi Arabia is the opposite. The country doesn’t believe in liberal democracy, so it doesn’t have to take in migrants to prove its government loves liberty. Saudi leaders don’t want the migrants to come because they know the exodus contains terror elements. They also know that taking in thousands, if not millions, of migrants overnight is bound to lead to social instability and to jeopardize future national prospects. So they base their decision on the state’s interest rather than that of value signaling.
Rights groups point out that those countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — with wealth amassed from oil, gas, and finance, collectively have far more resources than the two Arab states that have taken in the most Syrians: Jordan and Lebanon. The Gulf States are Arabic-speaking, have historic ties to Syria and some are embroiled in the current crisis through their support for insurgent groups.
“The missing linkage in this tragic drama is the role of Arab countries, specifically the Gulf countries,” says Fadi al-Qadi, a regional human rights expert in Jordan. “These states have invested money, supported political parties and factions, funded with guns, weapons et cetera, and engaged in a larger political discourse around the crisis.” Supporters of Gulf governments contend that such criticism is unwarranted. The Gulf States have donated tens of millions of dollars to help Syrian refugees in places like Jordan. Syrians are welcome to come; the argument goes, even if they are not legally registered as refugees.
There are reasons, however, why Saudi Arabia doesn’t let in more people and why the United Arab Emirates prefer to pay to equip and maintain refugee camps in other countries, close to Syrian borders.
An overwhelming majority of the displaced Syrians are Sunni Muslims. Of the paltry 1,519 Syrians the U.S. has taken in since 2011, 1,415 were Sunnis. The Saudi population is also predominantly Sunni. There’s a catch, however: Many Sunni areas of Syria have served as a base for the Islamic State, which the Saudi and U.A.E. air forces are helping to bomb. The Islamic State is hostile to the Saudi regime, and it’s important to them whether the refugees are fleeing the Islamic State or the bombings. Sectarian difficulties have already surfaced in Muslim countries that have been open to displaced Syrians, upsetting often fragile ethnic and religious balances. In general, the longer the refugees stayed, the more the locals resented them and perceived them as a threat.
In the Gulf States, potential problems are complicated by the already large expatriate populations: In some of them, locals are outnumbered by workers from neighboring Arab states, India and Southeast Asia. To these countries, letting in more foreigners doesn’t just mean sharing the (shrinking) oil wealth, but increasing the potential for political, ethnic and sectarian tension.
Though Gulf States are not accepting refugees, they claim that they are lending full support in both terms; i.e. financial and kind. The United Arab Emirates say that a UAE-funded field hospital in Jordan, hosting surgery, cardiology and pediatric units, is said to have provided treatment for nearly half a million refugees. Saudi Arabia says that it has accepted about 2.5 million Syrians but they are not referred to as refugees “to ensure their safety and dignity”. They are not placed in refugee camps either. Kuwait says that the country has donated €85 million in aid for Syrians. In total, the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar) say they have given over €800 million to help those suffering in the Syrian crisis.
In view of all these points, Gulf States like UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are facing harsh criticism on social media. Amnesty International paints an equally damning picture, arguing that 3.8 million refugees from Syria, or 95% of the total number of those who fled the country as a result of the conflict, are in just five states: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, lashed out at them on Twitter, captioning the photograph of an overloaded migrant vessel with: “Guess how many of these Syrian refugees Saudi Arabia & other Gulf states offered to take? Zero”. On the other hand, says a report by Amnesty International, Gulf countries including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees. The problem lies not with the Gulf States’ generous financial support but rather with their lack of willingness to host fleeing Syrians as refugees, while expecting other countries to do so. Saudi Arabia has offered no evidence to support its claims that it has ‘welcomed’ so many Syrians, and it appears that figure consists mostly of Syrians who have passed through Saudi Arabia, however briefly. Counting the number of Syrians that have entered and exited Saudi Arabia does not amount to taking in refugees from Syria,” says Peter Bouckaert, the Emergency Director at Human Rights Watch.
Latest posts by Istathmir (see all)
- Rents get more affordable in Dubai, surge in Abu Dhabi - September 28, 2016
- Real estate Revelations: Property Facts about Dubai - May 4, 2016
- The Brexit Reality: Will UK be leaving European Union? - May 4, 2016