Friday, September 4, 2015

"The Arab world’s wealthiest nations are doing next to nothing for Syria’s refugees"

The Washington Post has an excellent story regarding the poor performance of the wealthiest Arab countries when it comes to the plight of Syrian refugees:

The world has been transfixed in recent weeks by the unfolding refugee crisis in Europe, an influx of migrants unprecedented since World War II. … A fair amount of attention has fallen on the failure of many Western governments to adequately address the burden on Syria's neighboring countries, which are struggling to host the brunt of the roughly 4 million Syrians forced out of the country by its civil war. … Less ire, though, has been directed at another set of stakeholders who almost certainly should be doing more: Saudi Arabia and the wealthy Arab states along the Persian Gulf. As Amnesty International recently pointed out, the "six Gulf countries -- Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain -- have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees." 

The nearest neighbors--Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon--have in fact accepted many thousands, though far short of what Turkey has done. However, it's not clear those countries were being humane or generous. It's more the case that they could not control their borders and had no choice as thousands of people flooded out of Syria.

With regard to the oil-rich Gulf states, it does not surprise me that these emirates would not help their fellow Arabs. Kindness and accommodation do not seem to be a part of that culture. Even if they consider a foreign Arab a brother or a cousin, their willingness to really help him seems to be very limited.

The story of the Palestinians would seem to contradict that conclusion. In the late-1940s, tens of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes in the wake of the pan-Arab war against Israel. The Palestinians ran to other Arab countries and were taken in as refugees. By having very large families, those tens of thousands are now several million people, third, fourth and fifth generation refugees.

It's been nearly 70 years since Israel became an independent Jewish state, and yet those Palestinians who fled to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and other Arab countries are almost all still living as refugees. They have rarely been integrated into the host Arab land and made normal citizens. Despite the fact that they speak the same language, are mostly of the same Muslim faith and have similar traditions in terms of family structure, food and other cultural values, they have been left to rot in ghettoes called refugee camps. 

While the rich Arabs could have given them a leg up and funded a program to integrate the refugees, so they would not be dependent on U.N. handouts, as most still are to this day, the Arabs have largely exploited the refugees as a symbol in their ongoing war with Israel, rather than treating them humanely. The idea is to maintain the fiction that thousands of Palestinian refugees, living in camps in Kuwait, for example, will some day return to Palestine, once the Arab nations collectively destroy Israel. But that fiction cannot be upheld, if the Palestinians, nearly 100% of whom were born in other Arab lands, like Kuwait, were allowed to become, say, Kuwaitis.

And a consequence of that discrimination has been a profound hatred of the host countries by the Palestinians who have not been allowed to integrate. This was seen in the coup attempt against the King of Jordan by Yassir Arafat in 1970, when Palestinians and Jordanians were attacking one another savagely. It was seen again during the Lebanon civil war in the 1970s, culminating in the mass murder of Palestinians by Lebanese Christians, who viewed the "refugees" as disloyal. And it was seen again when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and the Palestinian "refugees" sided with the Iraqis. Once the U.S. drove Saddam back to Baghdad, the Kuwaiti response was to kill hundreds of "disloyal" Palestinians and expatriate most of the rest.

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