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UAE takes in 15,000 refugees: Why are people angry?

I believe there is a hope that the UAE will eventually increase the number of refugees as soon as it can

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

At last weeks “Leaders’ Summit on Refugees,” Reem Ebrahim al-Hashemi, the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, announced that the UAE will take in 15,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.

While this is news that may people, including millions of refugees, have been waiting to hear, the online community was quick to react to the announcement. While some users praised UAE’s efforts, others claimed that the number is “shameful” and “low”. While it is inspiring that the public community is so accepting of refugees, it is important to recognize the significance of this number, and applaud it as a giant leap forward.

This isn’t the first time the UAE has addressed the crisis. In September 2015, a statement made to Gulf News reported that over 100,000 Syrians who have fled since the war started in 2011 have resettled in the UAE. This is in addition to over $1 billion that has been spent on Syrian refugees outside of the UAE by providing financial aid to refugee camps, including camps in neighboring Jordan.

It is important to recognize the difference in demographics, social and economic stability between host countries. Although Germany has granted 140,000 asylum claims, it has a population of 80 million, thus refugees make up 0.175 per cent of its population. The UAE in comparison has a population of 9.4 million, thus refugees also make up a close 0.16 per cent of its population. Additionally, it is important to recognize the industries that operate in each of the respective countries; Germany has a large manufacturing industry into which refugee can work for in the future, whereas much of the local industry in the UAE is the service industry.

Demographics play a key role because it impacts opportunities incumbent refugees. Demographics are a representation of how prepared a country is to receive refugees.

Understanding what it means to be a ‘refugee’

The UAE has not explained exactly how the refugees would be treated, what legal status they will be given, whether or not they will have the right to work, or the right to access healthcare or education. Additionally, it hasn’t set a timeline for when it will start accepting refugees, only that they will be taken in over the next five years. While the UAE has set the standard for neighboring Gulf countries to begin to take refugees in and give them official refugee status, hopefully it will also set the standard in how refugees should be treated: with dignity and respect.

Arguably more important than giving financial aid, it is important that refugees are also given a purpose. This comes in the form of a job or voluntary work. This has a positive impact on the mental health of refugees

Yara al-Wazir

Arguably more important than giving financial aid, it is important that refugees are also given a purpose. This comes in the form of a job or voluntary work. This has a positive impact on the mental health of refugees and helps overcome trauma of the war they have endured.

The sensitiveness of an open refugee flow

As well as demographics and preparedness of a country, one must understand the labor market and economic stability of those countries. When there are very little rules and limitations regarding the number of refugees, such as the case in Lebanon and Turkey when the war first started, the impact can be negative. The apparent open-door policy with limited preparation and resources in Lebanon has resulted in a lose-lose situation, for both the host Lebanon and for the refugees. Over one million refugees continue to live in camps. Lack of preparedness and social awareness of the situation has meant that the refugees have suffered abuse, exploitation and child labor. Unlike Lebanon, which has hosted Palestinian refugees for decades, the UAE is not accustomed to housing refugees and is delving into unfamiliar territory. If refugees in Lebanon continue to suffer due to lack of preparedness despite experience, one can only wonder what would happen to refugees and the host country if the UAE were to allow an open flow of refugees.

Therefore, starting with 15,000 refugees, however low the number may seem, is still a massive leap in the right direction and means that the refuges that are in fact taken in over the next five years are more likely to have a fair and respectful integration into the community.

I believe there is hope that the UAE will eventually increase the number of refugees as soon as it develops the infrastructure and facilities to accommodate them.

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

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