Arab world not batting eye for Syrian Refugees

Gulf countries criticised for not taking step to aid thousands of Syrian refugees while world struggling to settle upon solutions

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Updated Sep 6, 2015

Considered to be the world’s biggest refugee influx since World War II, Europe has been battling with the Syrian refugee crisis, one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time while the Gulf countries are criticised for turning a blind eye.  

Records show more than 4 million refugees have fled Syria since the war there began in 2011.

According to the Interior Ministry of Turkey, more than 1.9 million have gone to Turkey while the UN’s refugee agency states more than 600,000 to Jordan and 1 million to Lebanon whose population itself is just 4 million.

Thousands more are on the way seeking asylum at the doors of Europe.

Despite the far- right groups’ and xenophobic European citizens’ protests and riot attacks to refugee shelters in some countries like Germany and France, many European countries already led way to refugees to inhabit in their countries.

After the influx in Hungarian and Macedonian border, European leaders realised they had to take initiative to solve the problem and avoid a long term adverse effects.

Germany, the European Union's biggest recipient country of asylum seekers has suggested a quota system to distribute people more evenly across the 28 EU member states.

Britain announced it will take a further 4,000 Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East.

Scotland said it should accept 1,000 refugee as a “first step,” not as a cap or limit.

The government of Iceland has said it will take in 50 asylum seekers this year, which was responded with a Facebook campaign that Iceland -with only a population of 300.000 people - could host many more Syrian families.

While the world is trying to find a solution to the refugee crisis, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s speech on Thursday brought about another point.

Hungarian prime minister said, “The influx of the refugees into Europe threatens and undermines Europe’s Christian roots and governments should control their borders before they decide how many refugees to be allowed.”

Upon the ongoing discussions of mostly Muslim refugees knocking the doors of Christian countries for asylum, Amnesty International recently pointed out that the six Gulf countries Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.

Arab human rights activists also started a hashtag to pressure their governments into taking action: "Syrian Refugees have a place in the Gulf."

Wealth and proximity to Syria of the states has led many to question whether these states have more of a duty than Europe towards Syrians suffering from over four years of conflict.

Social media users have posted powerful images to illustrate the situation of Syrian refugees, with photos of people drowned at sea, children being carried over barbed wire, or families sleeping rough.

One Palestinian tweeted, "It is shameful when Iceland and Austria open their doors to Syrians and the Arab Gulf countries allow none," while a Kuwaiti commented, "Thousands of Icelanders invite over Syrian refugees, they are non-believers who do more for Islam than some of our Islamic nations that show little signs of Islamic values."

One of the images widely shared with the hashtag "Syrian Refugees have a place in the Gulf"  was The Saudi daily Makkah Newspaper’s cartoon depicting a man in traditional Gulf clothing looking out of a door with barbed wire around it and pointing at door with the EU flag on it.

"Why don't you let them in, you discourteous people?!" he says.

The cartoon  was echoed by Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, on Twitter with the comment, “The way that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states aid Syrian refugees.”

The commander of the opposition Free Syrian Army, Riyad al Asaad, retweeted an image of refugees posted by a former Kuwaiti MP, Faisal al Muslim, who had added the comment, "Oh countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, these are innocent people and I swear they are most deserving of billions in aid and donations."

Despite the reactions from social media, Gulf states seem unlikely to take a step in favour of Syrian refugees.

United Nations' 1951 Refugee Convention reveals none of these countries are signatories of the pact, which defines what a refugee is, and lays out their rights, as well as the obligations of states to safeguard them.

The situation also proves why any refugee does not flee to these countries.

As provided a Syrian willing to enter these countries would have to apply for a visa, which, under these circumstances, is rarely granted.

Considering Saudi Arabia and its neighbours having fears over refugees' taking jobs over their citizens, and may also have concerns about security issues and terrorism like in European countries, it is comprehensible that they avoid opening their doors to refugees.

However, the current Gulf aid outlay for Syrian refugees, which amounts to collective donations under $1 billion, four times less than the United States has given, seems to face further criticism.

“The region has the capacity to quickly build housing for the refugees. The giant construction companies that have built the gleaming towers of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh should be contracted to create shelters for the influx. Saudi Arabia has plenty of expertise at managing large numbers of arrivals: It receives an annual surge of millions of Hajj pilgrims to Mecca. There’s no reason all this knowhow can’t be put to humanitarian use,” Bobby Ghosh, managing editor of the news site Quartz, points out.

As Presidential spokesperson Ambassador Ibrahim Kalin commented on the Hungarian prime minister’s words calling Muslim countries to help Syrians on Twitter, “Turning a blind eye to the suffering of refugees and discriminating among them  is against christian values, too.” 



TRTWorld and agencies