Gulf States Taking Heat For Not Resettling Syrian Refugees | KERA News

Gulf States Taking Heat For Not Resettling Syrian Refugees

Sep 9, 2015
Originally published on September 9, 2015 11:22 am

For Syrian refugees, trying to find safety and building a new life in the one of the wealthy Arab Gulf states would seem logical: no harrowing sea journeys, and a familiar language, religion and culture. Human rights groups and others are urging these countries to do more to welcome Syrian refugees.

The U.N. refugee agency and Amnesty International say that none of the Arab Gulf states — including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates — have settled Syrians looking to escape the war.

"The Gulf states have traditionally not been resettlement countries," says Bill Frelick, the refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. "They've been sort of aloof from doing that. That doesn't mean they shouldn't take on this responsibility. This is a responsibility that should be shared by all countries."

Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, says his country already has a good track record for helping Syrians.

"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the largest supporters of aid to the Syrian refugees, whether in Jordan or Lebanon and other places," he says. "And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a welcoming environment for Syrians."

The Gulf states don't have systems in place specifically for refugees, Frelick says, but do receive Syrian workers.

"There's a de facto refugee system that works through migrant workers who get work visas and maybe are actually fleeing persecution and conflict, but are not recognized as such and are not protected as such," he explains. "They are there basically under the rubric of being a migrant worker."

Hundreds of thousands of those Syrians are already living in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states on work visas, says Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International. "Some of the Syrians who were already in the Gulf countries before the conflict and who got stuck there during the conflict have been allowed to extend their stays in some cases," she says.

Grisgraber says there are security concerns among Gulf nations — as well as fears that a flood of Syrians escaping war will destabilize the Arab nations and that newcomers will take all the jobs.

There is simply no political will, Grisgraber says, to bring Syrian migrants in.

"The Gulf countries, there's always been a bit of a nationalist bent, I think, a bit of a reluctance to have too many foreigners in there," she says. "But in this case, it seems misguided not to be offering some protection space to these refugees."

There is now increasing pressure on the Gulf states from humanitarian agencies and other governments to take in Syrian refugees, Grisgraber says. Saudi Foreign Minister Jubeir, speaking at a press conference, called the situation in Syria a tragedy. He offered concern for the refugees — but no plan to resettle them.

"We continue to care about Syria and the Syrian people," he said. "We have many, many Saudis who are of Syrian descent or who have relatives in Syria. So this is an issue that we attach great importance to."

But people across the Arab world, using social media, are starting to demand action. The hashtags criticize Gulf leaders for not taking in Syrian refugees. Many show drawings or photos of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old boy who washed up last week on a Turkish beach.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region also face pressure to accept refugees. Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have not taken in any. Here's NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: For Syrian refugees, trying to find safety and building a new life in one of the wealthy Gulf states would seem logical - no harrowing sea journeys, a familiar language, religion and culture. Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, says his country has a good track record for helping Syrians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADEL AL-JUBEIR: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the largest supporters of aid to the Syrian refugees, whether in Jordan or Lebanon or other places. And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a welcoming environment for Syrians.

NORTHAM: But the UN Refugee Agency says none of the Arab Gulf states have settled Syrians looking to escape the war. Bill Frelick is the refugee program director at Human Rights Watch.

BILL FRELICK: The Gulf states have traditionally not been resettlement countries. They've been sort of aloof from doing that. That doesn't mean, of course, that they shouldn't take on this responsibility. This is a responsibility that should be shared by all countries.

NORTHAM: Frelick says the Gulf states don't have systems in place specifically for refugees, but they do receive Syrian workers.

FRELICK: There's a de facto refugee system that works through migrant workers who get work visas and maybe are actually fleeing persecution and conflict but are not recognized as such and are not protected as such. They are there, basically, under the rubric of being a migrant worker.

NORTHAM: There are hundreds of thousands of those Syrians already living in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states on work visas. Daryl Grisgraber with Refugees International says they're being allowed to stay.

DARYL GRISGRABER: Some of the Syrians who were already in the Gulf countries before the conflict and who got stuck there during the conflict have been allowed to extend their stays in some cases.

NORTHAM: Grisgraber says there are security concerns among Gulf nations and fears that a flood of Syrians escaping the war will destabilize the Arab nations and that newcomers will take all the jobs. Grisgraber says there is simply no political will to bring Syrian migrants into the Gulf countries.

GRISGRABER: In the Gulf countries, there's always been a bit of a nationalist bent, I think, and a bit of a reluctance to have too many foreigners in there. But in this case, it seems misguided not to be offering some protection space to these refugees.

NORTHAM: Grisgraber says there is now increasing pressure on the Gulf states from humanitarian agencies and other governments to take in Syrian refugees. Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, speaking at a press conference, called the situation in Syria a tragedy. He offered concern for the refugees, but didn't offer a plan to resettle them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AL-JUBEIR: We continue to care about Syria and the Syrian people. We have many, many Saudis who are of Syrian descent or who have relatives in Syria, so this is an issue that we attach great importance to.

NORTHAM: But people across the Arab world, using social media, are starting to demand action. The hashtags criticize Gulf leaders for not taking in Syrian refugees. Many show drawings or photos of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old boy who washed up on a Turkish beach. Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.