Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Gulf States and Saudi Arabia Shun Refugees

 When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, fellow Gulf states raced to shelter thousands of displaced Kuwaitis. Fast forward 25 years, and the homeless from Syria's nearby war have found scant refuge in the Arab world's richest states.

None of the Gulf Arab states have signed onto key global agreements defining refugee status and imposing responsibilities on countries to grant asylum.

Sara Hashash of Amnesty International called the Gulf Arab states' behaviour "utterly shameful" and criticised Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for officially taking in zero refugees. Turkey hosts almost 2 million, tiny Lebanon over a million and other restive and poor neighbours hundreds of thousands.

"Gulf countries clearly can and should do an awful lot more," said Oxfam's Syria country director Daniel Gorevan. He called on Gulf States to "offer up work places, family unification schemes, essentially other legal avenues for them to get into Gulf countries and to be able to earn a living."

Foreign workers outnumber locals five to one in the UAE and Qatar. "The numbers of foreigners are overwhelming. Here we have 90 per cent - do you want to turn local people into minorities in their own countries? They already are, but to do it really?" said UAE Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political scientist.

Sultan Sooud al Qassemi, a commentator in the United Arab Emirates, said he suspected Gulf States were wary of allowing in large numbers of politically vocal Arabs who might somehow influence a traditionally passive society. "The Gulf states often complain that the Arabic language is underused and that our culture is under threat due to the large number of foreign immigrants," Mr. al Qassemi said. "Here is an opportunity to host a group of people who can help alleviate such concerns and are in need of refuge, fleeing a brutal war."

Over the decades, Saudi Arabia has become home to around half a million Syrians and the UAE to over 150,000, and the welcome extended to these and other expat professionals has helped fuel a boom in Gulf economies. But since the unrest and wars unleashed by the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings in 2011, those governments have adopted a stricter line on accepting Palestinians, Syrians and Shia Muslims - a sign of just how much the rich and stable Gulf ruled by absolute monarchs is wary of importing political contagions. This also may have something to do that the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia have been financing and supplying the Syrian rebels including Jihadist groups.

"Tunisia is not able to welcome any refugees. We cannot accept Syrian refugees. After the revolution of 2011, Tunisia was the first to pay the price in terms of refugees. We have welcomed 1.2 million Libyans and that has cost us a lot," Boujemaa Rmili, a spokesman for the Nidaa Tounes party which forms part of the governing coalition said.

Migrants from Syria and Sahel countries into Algeria are estimated at 55,000, a source from Algeria's Red Crescent told Reuters. "We have done what we can to offer them the basics including food, medicine, host centres, and we have allowed the Syrian kids to study in our schools," the source said.

Iyad al-Baghdadi, a Palestinian activist deported from the UAE last year, has criticised the response of the Gulf states and laments the closed borders and repression. Recalling time spent in a Norwegian refugee camp with Syrian refugee friends, he said on Twitter: "Something about this felt absolutely alien - three grown Arab Muslim men who were made homeless and are seeking refuge in... Scandinavia. The Arab world is 5 million square miles. When my son was born, among the worst thoughts was how it has no space for him."



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