Saudi Arabia Is Turning Its Back On Refugees

Why can’t Saudi Arabia or Qatar welcome refugees like Iceland and Germany? Why do migrants prefer Europe over rich Gulf countries?

Migrants storm into a train

Europe has come under increased scrutiny ever since the migrant crisis exploded on the continent earlier this year.

While countries like Iceland and Germany have been rather welcoming towards refugees mainly hailing from Syria, some have been selective in their hospitality like Slovakia, which is only accepting Christian migrants.  And it’s not just Slovakia, Poland and Bulgaria are also not very keen on accepting Muslim asylum-seekers.

So why can’t rich Islamic Gulf states like Saudi Arabia help?

Hungarian policemen

As per the United Nations, the most number of refugees are housed by relatively poorer Middle Eastern and South Asian countries.

“The burden of helping the world’s forcibly displaced people is starkly uneven,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message on World Refugee Day. “Poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier ones.  While anti-refugee sentiment is heard loudest in industrialized countries, developing nations host 80 per cent of the world’s refugees.  This situation demands an equitable solution.”

This essentially means the real crisis involving migrants remains in countries like Pakistan, Iran and Syria – which host the largest refugee populations at 1.9 million, 1.1 million and 1 million respectively.

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A woman sits

In a damning December 2014 report, Amnesty International criticized Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which have offered “zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.”

Although Saudi Arabia has offered generous aid to Syrian refugees, the oil-rich Kingdom has never really come forward to house any destitute refugees.

According to a recent BBC analysis, Syrians can only officially apply for a tourist visa or work permit in order to enter a Gulf state.

“…The process is costly, and there is a widespread perception that many Gulf states have unwritten restrictions in place that it make it hard for Syrians to be granted a visa in practice,” the articles states.

Moreover, wealthy Gulf states have generally been inhospitable towards asylum-seekers – they usually prefer paid labor force. Last year, Saudi authorities deported at least 12,000 people to Somalia since January 2014 without allowing any to make refugee claims – a process known as “Refugee Status Determination.” The country has also not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have an asylum system.

Europe is rightly being pressed to do more for refugees. However, the humanitarian responsibility also falls on the shoulders of Saudi Arabia and its prosperous allies like Qatar.

After all, it’s a world humanitarian crisis – not a regional one.

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