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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Migrant crisis: Why Syrians do not flee to Gulf states

As the crisis brews over Syrian refugees trying to
enter European countries, questions have been
raised over why they are not heading to wealthy
Gulf states closer to home.
Although those fleeing the Syrian crisis have for
several years been crossing into Lebanon, Jordan
and Turkey in huge numbers, entering other Arab
states - especially in the Gulf - is far less
straightforward.
Officially, Syrians can apply for a tourist visa or work
permit in order to enter a Gulf state.
But the process is costly, and there is a widespread
perception that many Gulf states have unwritten
restrictions in place that it make it hard for Syrians to
be granted a visa in practice.
Most successful cases are Syrians already in Gulf
states extending their stays, or those entering
because they have family there.
For those with limited means, there is the added
matter of the sheer physical distance between Syria
and the Gulf.
Not welcome?
This comes as part of wider obstacles facing Syrians,
who are required to obtain rarely granted visas to
enter almost all Arab countries.
Without a visa, Syrians are not currently allowed to
enter Arab countries except for Algeria, Mauritania,
Sudan and Yemen.
The relative wealth and proximity to Syria of the
states has led many - in both social and as well as
traditional media - to question whether these states
have more of a duty than Europe towards Syrians
suffering from over four years of conflict and the
emergence of jihadist groups in the country.
The Arabic hashtag
#Welcoming_Syria's_refugees_is_a_Gulf_duty has
been used more than 33,000 times on Twitter in the
past week.
Users have posted powerful images to illustrate the
plight of Syrian refugees, with photos of people
drowned at sea, children being carried over barbed
wire, or families sleeping rough.
A Facebook page called The Syrian Community in
Denmark has shared a video showing migrants
being allowed to enter Austria from Hungary,
prompting one user to ask: "How did we flee from
the region of our Muslim brethren, which should take
more responsibility for us than a country they
describe as infidels?"
Another user replied: "I swear to the Almighty God,
it's the Arabs who are the infidels."
'Let them in!'
The story has also attracted the attention of regional
press and political actors.
The Saudi daily Makkah Newspaper published a
cartoon - widely shared on social media - that
showed a man in traditional Gulf clothing looking out
of a door with barbed wire around it and pointing at
door with the EU flag on it.
"Why don't you let them in, you discourteous
people?!" he says.
The commander of the opposition Free Syrian Army
(FSA), Riyad al-Asaad, retweeted an image of
refugees posted by a former Kuwaiti MP, Faisal al-
Muslim, who had added the comment: "Oh countries
of the Gulf Cooperation Council, these are innocent
people and I swear they are most deserving of
billions in aid and donations."
But despite the appeals from social media, Gulf
states' position seems unlikely to shift in favour of
Syrian refugees.
In terms of employment, the trend in most Gulf
states, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the
UAE is towards relying on migrant workers from
South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent,
particularly for unskilled labour.
While non-Gulf Arabs do occupy positions in skilled
mid-ranking jobs, for example in education and
health, they are up against a "nationalisation" drive
whereby the Saudi and Kuwaiti governments in
particular are seeking to prioritise the employment of
locals.
Non-native residents may also struggle to create
stable lives in these countries as it is near impossible
to gain nationality.
In 2012, Kuwait even announced an official strategy
to reduce the number of foreign workers in the
emirate by a million over 10 years.

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