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Why the Persian Gulf states need to take in more refugees

Flikr-Tribes of the World

Do you remember your first day at a new school? Do you remember that feeling of uneasiness when you went to make friends? I do. Growing up, my family moved around a lot which meant I was never in the same school for more than two years. I quickly got used to eating lunch on my own and not having any friends in those first few days, and with each new school I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. That’s just how it goes. But that's still a mild form of adapting.


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Imagine being forced to run for your life, leaving everything familiar behind because of war, seeing and hearing things you can’t un-hear and un-see and realising you may never see that family member or friend from down the street again. And imagine if the closest countries to you were rich, shared the same language and religion as you, but didn’t want you there.

Feeling unwanted and unwelcome is a feeling that hurts and is exactly what is happening to the Syrian refugees right now. Neighbouring Syria are the states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain and they belong to the Persian Gulf and have been criticized for not offering to accept and resettle Syrian refugees despite having similar language, religion and culture. These oil rich Gulf states have the capacity to build massive malls, gleaming skyscrapers and huge roads. They also have experience in hosting large numbers of arrivals. For instance, the annual Hajj pilgrimage attracts millions of people to Mecca each year in Saudi Arabia. These countries have one of the highest standards of living but have taken in zero refugees. The exception seems to be the Unites Arab Emirates, which has received almost 250,000 refugees.

What accounts for this?

Maybe it’s because the Gulf nations are among the few that haven’t participated in the 1951 United Nations treaty on refugees. This is an agreement that defines who is a refugee and what their rights are. It also defines the legal obligations of the states that take them in. In short, by not having signed, these Gulf states aren’t legally obliged to provide refuge or asylum.

The responsibility has fallen on Syria's not-so-rich neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Jordan has taken 650,000 refugees which equates to about 10% of the population,

Lebanon has taken in 1.2 million refugees which equates to around 20% of the country’s population,

and

Turkey has taken in almost 2 million refugees which is more than any other country worldwide.

Gulf countries have contributed generously to humanitarian aid, with Saudi Arabia giving $18.4 million to the United Nations Syrian response and Kuwait giving more than $304 million, making it the third largest donor in the world. However generous these countries are, at the end of the day, money won’t overshadow the enormous political and social strains that accepting and resettling refugees puts on smaller countries, not to mention the drain on natural resources

In response to the refugee crisis, especially the distressing pictures of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy drowned on the shore of a Turkish beach, many residents of the Gulf states are turning to social media to express their frustration at their leaders for not opening their doors to refugees.

These countries lack a system for citizens to express their views. They can’t just call up their member of parliament or demonstrate and rally or even collect money. All they can do is create a hashtag and express their frustrations through social media.

In order for the world to achieve Global Goal 16: Peace and Justice, all countries need to step up. This must start with the Gulf states that are so close to the crisis.