The Gulf and Syrian refugees

Gulf countries are not selfish as some claim. They host some of the biggest foreign communities

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
5 min read

The crisis of refugees - Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis and others - is everyone’s responsibility amid the international community’s failure to support them. No one, including Gulf countries, have an excuse to not support them. Arab Gulf countries have been recently criticized about this, but some critics have aims that are completely irrelevant to the humanitarian side of it.

Gulf countries must of course accommodate more people and grant more care to Arabs and Africans fleeing wars in their countries. However, it is important to look at the entire picture, not just rely on people who seek to serve their own interests, or reporters who only know part of the truth.

A big percentage of the funds spent by international organizations and received by governments who host refugees, such as Lebanon and Jordan, come from Gulf countries. The latter are thus one of the major funders of about 3 million Syrian and Yemeni refugees in different countries.

Gulf countries are not selfish as some claim. They host some of the biggest foreign communities

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Almost all these funds spent on refugees come from Gulf governments, after charities and individuals decreased their activity due to suspicions over beneficiaries and fears that groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may be making use of the financial aid.

As to hosting refugees, ever since the Arab Spring erupted, Gulf countries have received thousands of them via family reunifications and quick employment programs. Riyadh has exempted Syrians from renewing their visas and from labor permits. There are currently more than 500,000 Syrians in Saudi Arabia, representing the third-largest community after Egyptians and Yemenis.

The number of Yemenis in the kingdom has increased to over 1 million since the war erupted in their country. All Yemeni refugees and Yemenis who illegally entered the kingdom have been granted legal residencies that allow them to stay and work.


Europe agreed to take in 250,000 refugees, and there is uproar regarding this number, although it is humble compared with the numbers who sought refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It is even less than the number of refugees who quietly found their way to Gulf countries.

Despite that, we must thank countries such as Germany for their humanity, and note that Germans have always been one of the most welcoming to refugees since the Lebanese civil war erupted in the 1970s. Gulf countries must provide more space for refugees via the system that reunifies Syrians with their families who reside there, and by allowing more Yemenis to seek refuge there in addition to the 1.5 million already present.

Gulf countries are not selfish as some claim. They host some of the biggest foreign communities. All six Gulf countries have opened their doors for these communities to live and work, and some of these foreigners have fled persecution and wars from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Afghanistan. These people were neither housed in tents nor categorized as refugees, and they mingled with society. This year around 1.5 million people, who sneaked into Saudi Arabia mostly from troubled countries, were granted residencies and work permits.


When taking into consideration the percentage of foreigners to citizens in most Gulf countries, there is a dilemma that prevents receiving more refugees. Foreigners make up more than 80 percent of the population in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, around half of Kuwait’s population, some 40 percent in Saudi Arabia and around a third in Bahrain.

You do not see such percentages in other countries, including in Europe, which complains about the number of foreigners on its land. The percentage of foreigners in Britain is 8 percent, and it is a similar percentage in Germany and Greece.

Trading accusations, and some people’s exploitation of a humanitarian cause to achieve personal or political aims, will preoccupy everyone with disputes instead of housing and feeding these poor, miserable refugees.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 7, 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending