The Gulf states at the UNGA: What is at stake?

GCC officials worry that the region’s troubles will bring about political disagreements

Dr. Theodore Karasik
Dr. Theodore Karasik
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Member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are very keen on the 71st UN General Assembly (UNGA), which is hosting its highest-level summit to address large refugee and migrant flows, with the aim of bringing countries together in a more humane and coordinated approach.

The GCC states will voice their opinions on this issue at the UNGA, as well as other hot topics such as Syria, Yemen and Libya. Gulf Arab officials see the region in flames, and the UN as unready to achieve “peace” in the formats being presented by international diplomats.

According to the UN, this is the first time it is examining large movements of refugees and migrants. War and famine in the Middle East and Africa are producing a European disaster that is overwhelming policymakers, local governments and general populations. Islamophobia is on the rise, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda continue to recruit and plot.

The GCC states’ primary concern is the many conflicts in the region that breed terrorism, and the Iranian policies over regional security issues. “The UN and the West don’t see the [region’s] conflicts through the appropriate lens,” said a GCC official. “Where these international actors see hope, we see a dead end. Simultaneously, Iran is stirring up trouble more than ever.”

Syria remains an international disaster. GCC frustration with the Geneva talks, and the tug of war between countries inside and outside the region, are prolonging the crisis that is making refugee flows so massive in the first place. All UNGA calls to action will likely fall on deaf ears in the near term, given the glacial pace of positive action against the daily violence.

The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) is the humanitarian arm that helps provide aid to those most in need. GCC humanitarian assistance is a notable contribution to the dire situation on the ground. However, the good news ends there. Forced evacuees from many of the region’s conflicts are swelling refugee camps.

Some policymakers criticize the GCC for failing to do enough to help refugees. The reality is more complex. Its member states are not signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention defining the rights of those fleeing war or persecution, and do not consider themselves legally obligated to help those landing at their shores requesting sanctuary.

GCC officials worry that the region’s troubles will bring about political disagreements in Arab Gulf states, which are undergoing a major economic transition due to low oil prices. The situation is troubling, as some GCC states are in a tenuous position.

However, the Council is sending hundreds of millions of dollars to help refugees resettle in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It is also accepting hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other refugees if security requirements are met.

The UN is involved in two other negotiations that directly impact the GCC: Yemen and Libya. The Council, although not unified on how to settle those multilevel civil wars, sees that the UN’s endless negotiations are going nowhere, and that the UN hinders the peace processes by failing to understand local grievances. To the GCC, Yemen and Libya are already failed states that will only produce more migrants flooding Europe unless there is a more focused approach.

Importantly, the GCC states will likely monitor the UNGA closely for any new favoritism toward Iran by UN members. Such public pronouncements may inflame an already delicate situation.

Overall, the GCC sees this UNGA as an opportunity to voice regional concerns that the UN is not addressing correctly by offering more cooperation. Now is the time to come up with a blueprint for a better international and regional response. The GCC hopes that this is a watershed moment to strengthen governance of international migration, and to create a more responsible, predictable system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants.

More than that, the Council seeks to stamp out the root causes of such waves, and that is where the fight against terrorism comes into play. For the GCC, much is at stake at the UNGA if terrorism is not addressed outright.

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