GCC: International community needs to do more for refugees

Friday 18/09/2015
GCC foreign ministers called for worldwide effort to tackle crisis

LONDON - As the Syrian refugee cri­sis grows, international media and non-govern­mental organisations (NGOs) have accused the oil-rich states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of not hosting any refugees.

GCC foreign ministers, following a September 15th meeting in Ri­yadh, called for a worldwide effort to tackle the refugee crisis and to seek a political solution to the Syr­ian conflict.

GCC ministers appealed to “the international community to as­sume its responsibilities to help Syrian refugees” and stressed the GCC had accommodated “Syrian brothers, who are treated like resi­dents and benefit from free health care, education and the right to work”, since the civil war began.

Since the heart-breaking image of toddler Aylan Kurdi dead on a Turk­ish beach went viral and thousands of refugees have flocked to Europe, the plight of Syrians displaced by the long civil war has become a priority for the international com­munity.

Due to the public outcry, a num­ber of European leaders have sof­tened their stance regarding the refugees. That includes British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government announced that it would host 20,000 Syrian refu­gees over the next five years.

Feeling unfairly labelled by me­dia reports and statements by a number of global NGOs, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia de­fended their response to the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly with re­gards to a report by Amnesty Inter­national which singled out Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bah­rain for “having offered zero reset­tlement places to Syrian refugees”.

Mohammed Abu Asaker, the UAE-based spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), confirmed there were Syrian refugees in the Gulf.

“There are thousands of Syrian refugees in the Gulf but we don’t know exactly how many,” Abu Asaker told The Arab Weekly. He said only the GCC governments could give an accurate estimate.

According to an Emirati govern­ment statement, the UAE has ex­tended residency permits to more than 100,000 Syrians who have entered the country since 2011 and that more than 242,000 Syrian na­tionals currently live in the country.

“The UAE has made it one of its foreign policy priorities to address this issue in a sustainable and hu­mane fashion together with its re­gional and international partners,” the statement said.

Moreover, the UAE has provided more than $530 million in humani­tarian aid and development assis­tance in response to the Syrian cri­sis since 2012. Part of that aid goes to fund the Mrajeeb al-Fhood refu­gee camp in Jordan, which houses more than 4,000 refugees.

Saudi Arabia has hosted about 2.5 million Syrians since the start of the civil war, according to its For­eign Ministry, which emphasised that the kingdom does not consider the Syrians “refugees” and does not house them in camps to “ensure their dignity and safety”.

Syrians in Saudi Arabia have been granted legal residence permits, full freedom to travel inside the country and are allowed to study in Saudi schools as per an order issued in 2012 by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The ministry revealed that 100,000 Syrians are registered in public schools, all Syrians in the kingdom receive free medical treat­ment and are allowed to work in the private sector like other expa­triates.

Syrian National Coalition Am­bassador to the Gulf Adib Shishakli said Saudi Arabia’s concern for the Syrian people’s cause is clear and can be seen in its provision of hu­manitarian assistance to Syrian mi­grants and refugees.

An anonymous Syrian wrote re­cently in a Facebook post, “Saudi has no refugees but it hosts a mil­lion Syrians on visitor visas, in addition to the Syrian residents, (and) they get their health care and schools, and in some cases their rents from charities.

According to the UN refugee agency, more than 4 million refu­gees have fled Syria since 2011. Saudi Arabia and other GCC state are not signatories to the UN refu­gee convention, which means that refugees living in the GCC are not classified as such.