The continuing refugee crisis in Europe and what role should western and GCC nations play has resulted in a lot of finger pointing. Allegations by western pundits that the GCC has done little to take in refugees, and counter charges that the West started the whole mess with the 2003 Iraq invasion and can’t take responsibility by accepting displaced Syrians and Iraqis within their borders.
The sad fact is that the European Union (EU) was woefully unprepared for the huge influx of refugees despite myriad warnings from the United Nations and numerous NGOs. Only Germany and Austria had the courage to be the first nations to step in to accept some of the four million Syrian refugees forced out of their country while leading western nations like the United Kingdom and the United States have sat as idle spectators to the growing crisis.
It’s heartening, though, to see the Germans and Austrians welcome refugees with open arms and temporary shelter. It’s humanity at its best. An estimated 18,000 people arrived last week in Germany. Unfortunately for every European country that gives shelter to refugees there is another that has made it clear that they are not welcome under any circumstances. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia have rejected recommendations that they adopt resettlement quotas.
But with a little arm-twisting and shaming, other countries have grudgingly accepted resettlement quotas. France will take in 24,000 refugees over two years. Australia will accept 12,000 Syrians while Britain will resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 at 4,000 people a year. It’s progress but still a drop in the bucket when the region is facing the task of resettling up to four million people. The US already has a refugee policy of accepting 70,000 people worldwide with only 2,000 from Syria. Although the US has provided $4 billion in aid worldwide, it has not made a final decision to accept more displaced persons.
Now that public opinion has forced the Europeans to offer refugees safe haven; attention has turned to the perceived failures of GCC countries. Yet we should also consider that some Gulf countries have poured millions of dollars into refugee aid. The United Arab Emirates, for example, spent $540 million directly in Jordan and northern Iraq to establish camps.
Donations through the UNHCR include $2.5 million from Qatar to Turkey; $2.7 million to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia; and $2.2 million to Jordan via the UNHCR from the UAE. Critics argue that Saudi Arabia, for example, has the space, the wealth and a compatible religion to accept Syrians. Although there are only 14 people per square kilometer in Saudi Arabia, most of that space is virtually inhospitable.
Saudi Arabia is already home to about 500,000 Syrians and has agreed to accept a huge number of Syrian students. A large percentage of Syrians have lived in Saudi Arabia for many years, but a significant portion also fled to the Kingdom following the outbreak of the civil war four years ago. While not classified as refugees but instead arriving on visas, Syrians still have benefited from Saudi Arabia’s willingness to open its doors.
Other GCC countries are even in a more difficult position to accept refugees. In the UAE, just 11.5 percent of the country’s 8.2 million people are UAE nationals. Roughly two million of the four million residents of Oman are Oman citizens. And in Kuwait only one-third of the total population of four million people are Kuwaiti. Admitting refugees even on a limited level would severely impact the ability for citizens of these countries to find employment. This is a particular problem since Syrians are generally well educated with professional job skills and would compete for well-paying positions.
The only way to solve the problem is for Europe and the United States to coordinate with the GCC to establish a uniform policy that provides immigration quotas for each country based on its ability to absorb new residents. That includes every GCC country that has to date accepted no refugees and every member of the European Union, including those countries hostile to the idea of taking in at least some Syrians.
Ideally, the UNHRC should be charged with the task of coordinating the quota program, but given the failures of the United Nations so far to develop a comprehensive plan on its own, then the task should be left to the US, Germany and Saudi Arabia to spearhead the effort.
Germany has been a consistent leader in attempting to resolve the crisis. Saudi Arabia’s leadership position in the GCC makes it the likely choice to get its neighbors on board with a plan. President Obama, who has been so effective in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal and then getting the necessary votes to gain Senate approval, could use those skills to rally England and its neighbors into action.