Why the rich Gulf states won’t take refugees

Special to WorldTribune.com

Concerned they will be overwhelmed by the social and political impact of a huge influx of refugees, wealthy Gulf states are highly unlikely to change their practice of keeping asylum seekers out.

The UN convention on refugees, which has governed international law on asylum since World War II, includes exactly zero Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states — Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar — as signatories.

Gulf states have taken in thousands fleeing Syria's war, just not as refugees.
Gulf states have taken in thousands fleeing Syria’s war, just not as refugees.

The Gulf states worry the refugees will aspire to settle permanently and demand broad civil rights that temporary guest workers know not to expect.

“We’re talking about countries whose nationals are in the minority,” said Sami al-Faraj, a Kuwaiti security adviser to the GCC. “When it comes to the issue of refugees, we have taken a stand and that is to actually help (other) nations settle refugees.”

The GCC states’ insistence that their huge humanitarian aid donations should be sufficient holds little sway in the increasingly critical humanitarian community.

“To me, buying your way out of this is not satisfactory,” Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Migration and Development told a news briefing in Geneva last week. “And I say that taking refugees is separate from giving money.”

GCC states have taken in thousands of Syrians since the civil war there began in 2011, including half a million in Saudi Arabia and 100,000 in the United Arab Emirates, just not as refugees. Like the rest of the expatriates that form a majority in many Gulf states, Syrians have been admitted mainly as temporary guest workers, meaning they must have jobs lined up before they arrive, or as their family dependents.

Citizens in GCC states are said to be concerned that generous social welfare benefits for nationals may come under strain if state money has to be allocated to deal with a massive influx of non-nationals, particularly at a time when budgets are stretched by lower prices for oil exports.

“Gulf countries are scared about more traffic on the streets, longer waiting periods in free government medical facilities, additional pressure on subsidized goods, and more use of subsidized electricity and water,” said Ali al-Baghli, a lawyer and former Kuwaiti parliamentarian and oil minister, who hoped Gulf countries would change policies and accept refugees.

The Syrian father of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the boy who drowned on a Turkish beach last week and whose image helped inspire global sympathy for refugees attempting to make it to Europe, blamed Arab countries for failing to take in more Syrians.

“I want Arab governments — not European countries — to see (what happened to) my children, and because of them to help people,” Abdullah Kurdi said last week as he crossed the border back to Syria to bury Aylan, whose 5-year-old brother and mother also drowned in the Mediterranean.

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