Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are heading towards Europe. Germany is expecting to absorb up to one million refugees from the exodus. However, the oil-rich Gulf States, who share more in common with the Syrians than Europeans, have refused to take any refugees whatsoever. This is a disgrace.
The brutality and violence of the ongoing Syrian Civil War has forced over four million Syrians to leave the country and seek asylum in other countries. Out of those four million, two million are in Turkey, one million are in Lebanon and 600,000 are in Jordan. These massive numbers have altered those countries’ demographics: 25% of Lebanon’s population consist of Syrian refugees, whilst 10% of Jordan’s population are Syrians. Similar percentages are reported in eastern Turkey.
However, hundreds of thousands of refugees are moving to Europe via the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Germany alone has volunteered to take in between 800,000 and one million refugees this year alone, which is significantly more than the rest of Europe combined. The massive number of Syrian refugees arriving is causing unrest in many European countries, especially among the right-wing. In Lahti, a city in southern Finland, anti-immigration demonstrators threw fireworks at a bus full of refugees as they arrived. In Germany, Pegida is on the up. Donald Trump, in his trademark style, announced that if he became president, all 200,000 Syrian refugees that the US is planning to take in would be sent back to Syria. The UK is only planning to take 20,000 refugees by 2020 – pathetically less than what Germany took in September alone – while Slovakia has decided, in quite a bigoted manner, not to take in any Muslim refugees at all, only allowing Syrian Christians in.
More than 5,000 refugees, mostly from Syria and Iraq, arrive in Greece every day. Unfortunately, the EU can only take in so many. We should try to relocate as many as possible and give them better lives, but unfortunately we cannot do it alone. The numbers are too large. Countries that are never mentioned when talking about the refugee crisis are the oil-rich Gulf States of the Arab world. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman have so far refused to take in any Syrian refugees whatsoever. Admittedly, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE are quite small countries and do not have the physical space to accommodate large numbers of refugees, but they should at least try to take some. Saudi Arabia and Oman, however, are large, rich countries which definitely have the capacity to accommodate perhaps hundreds of thousands of refugees. The only Arab countries that have accepted Syrian refugees so far are Jordan and Lebanon – these are both small countries and are weak economies, incapable of taking more. Their demographics have been significantly altered by the refugee exodus. The Gulf States have sent some aid to refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, but they have not offered refugees safe havens.
The financial capabilities of the wealthier Gulf States are enormous. Their combined GDP is approximately £1.3 trillion per year, and their combined population is less than 55 million people – this leads to a per capita annual income of more than £14,000 in Bahrain (the “poorest”) and £60,000 in Qatar (the richest). Even 5% of their combined GDPs (around £66 billion) could do so much to solve the crisis. These countries could have offered sanitary, well-maintained, good quality safe areas for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Instead, Saudi Arabia built a wall along its border with Iraq. Why? To “keep Isis out.” Since Isis’ territory in Iraq is nowhere near the Saudi border, it seems like this barrier is intended to keep any Iraqis out, regardless of their circumstance or allegiance. Saudi Arabia has so much land upon which it could relocate migrants, but it chooses not to. Many rich Arabs even criticise Western countries for not dealing with the refugee crisis effectively.
In Europe there is the problem of whether migrants will fit in; whether they will be able to adapt to life in the West; whether they will be able to communicate effectively; whether they will be accepted by their community etc. Most of those problems would not exist if the refugees were relocated to an Arab country. Syrians speak Arabic, most of them are ethnic Arabs and the majority are Muslims – they would fit in well among the populations of the Gulf States. Technically, Syrians can apply for a tourist visa or work permit to enter a Gulf state, but the process is expensive and there are rumours that the Gulf States have unwritten restrictions, making it difficult for Syrians to actually be given a visa. The Gulf States actually have more of a duty than Europe towards Syrians who have suffered at the hands of Assad and jihadist groups for more than four years, because they would be able to provide a better and more comfortable lifestyle for the refugees than Europe can. It is not guaranteed that refugees will be accepted into European nations due to the intolerance that exists and the vast differences in culture, but the Gulf States are fortunate to share a common language, religion and ethnicity with the refugees.
This mindset of the Gulf States is not exclusive to the refugee crisis. In recent history, they have been happy to sit back and let external powers sort out the problems in their own region. They happily let the US-led coalition invade Iraq and sat back while Assad and Isis butcher Syrians left, right and centre. Only when the Iranian-backed Shia Houthis captured Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, did Sunni rival Saudi Arabia begin a military campaign.
It is time for the Gulf States to sort out their own problems instead of letting others do it for them. They are content to rake in money and live lavishly by selling their oil whilst turning their backs towards their neighbours who are suffering at the hands of a ruthless dictator and merciless jihadist factions. The time for talking has passed. The time for action is now.