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  • A Syrian refugee prays on a rail track at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, August 22, 2015

    A Syrian refugee prays on a rail track at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, August 22, 2015 | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 September 2015

Saudi Arabia dismissed criticism over having zero Syrian refugees, saying it has welcomed millions. However, all of them are temporary workers.

Saudi Arabia defended itself Friday against mounting criticism the government is facing for not accepting Syrian refugees since the conflict began four years ago.

The criticism come after photos of the dead body of Syrian three-year-old boy Aylan Kurdi went viral and prompted international outcry against Europe and other rich countries around the world for refusing to admit Syrian refugees.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) cited an unnamed official source in the foreign ministry as saying that the kingdom found it "important to clarify these efforts with facts and numbers in response to media reports, which included false and misleading accusations about the Kingdom."

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People around the Arab world took to social media and Twitter using the hashtag “Arab conscience,” in English and Arabic languages, to express their outrage over the fact that Saudi Arabia and the other five Arab Gulf states from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman - were hosting no Syrian refugees.

The Saudi official said that the Kingdom “has received around 2.5 million Syrians since the beginning of the conflict. In order to ensure their dignity and safety, the Kingdom adopted a policy that does not treat them as refugees or place them in refugee camps.”

However, the country and its five allies are not signatories of the United Nation's convention on refugees, which has governed international law on asylum since World War II. Thus, those countries do not have a legal category for refugees.

In fact, the GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia, accepted those Syrians as well as those of other nationalities only on temporary work visas, which they must have before they arrive to the country, or on temporary residence visas for minors as dependents on their close relatives who have already been residing there.

Jane Kinninmont, the assistant head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, said in a recent article that those Syrians allowed in GCC countries were on temporary visas, which are hard to obtain in most cases.

“The lack of recognition for refugees has far less to do with attitudes to the Syrian crisis than with the potential claims that could arise from larger migrant populations—many of whom come from unstable or repressive countries—and the general reluctance of Gulf governments to give permanent residency to anyone beyond a small pool of citizens, with few exceptions,” said Kinninmont.

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In the GCC, those who are not citizens are treated as expatriates even after working in those countries for decades. They are also forced to leave the country whenever they lose their jobs or reach a retirement age.

Minors, who are dependents on their parents, are required to leave the country by the age of 18 even if they were born in the country, as they also have temporary residence visas since the day they are born.

Migrants make up the majority of the workforce in all the Arab Gulf countries, and in the UAE and Qatar, more than 80 percent of the population are migrants who lack civil rights despite having lived in the country for years.

In addition to not taking refugees, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and regional Arab nations have been bombing Yemen for the past six months, producing millions of refugees and internally displaced people.

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