Syria or its formal name Syrian Arab Republic is an authoritarian regime ruled by President Bashar Al-Assad. All crucial decisions usually made by President with the advice of a small number of security advisors, ministers, and senior members of the ruling Ba’ath Party. (Syria) Ba’ath Party is a Syria’s ruling party and has been dominate into politics since 1970, which is from the period of Bashar Al-Assad’s late father, Hafez al-Assad. After he died in 2000, his son, Bashar Al-Assad succeeded him as a Syrian President. He came in power and officially became Syrian President on 10th July 2000.
For almost a decade, we have seen internal conflict, religious, political, economic turmoil and international dilemma due to the civil war broke out, resulted to high numbers of Syrian refugees flew out of the country to a safer countries, like Europe and North America. (Tyyska et al., 2017)
The spark of the civil war in Syria during spring 2011 at southern city of Darra, it started with teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans anti-Bashar on a school wall were tortured and arrested followed by the protest at the city. Yet again, the whole period of civil war did not happen just due to this reason. But it is also due to the repression by the government through military force that resulted of high level of distrust of the regime, the internal conflict between pro-Assad regime which is called Shabiha were on fire against the local protestor. Due to the internal conflict happened in Syria, this event has opened a way to foreign countries intervention.
Dozens of innocent civilians died in Syria because of the ongoing violent civil war that’s happening. In order to save lives, majority have decided to flew out of the countries to other countries. Unfortunately, Syrian refugees cannot seek refuge at Gulf states that are much closer to Syria because of the strict entrance policy implemented by them. According to UNHCR, “more than 5.5 million Syrians are now living as refugees in the region, and 6.1 million others are internally displaced, including almost a million people forced to flee fighting in north-west Syria in the last three months.”
How did the crisis in Syria start? Well, the crisis started when anti-government demonstrations began in March of 2011 during the Arab Spring. The peaceful demonstration by pro-democracy were done due to the lack freedom and economic problem. Moreover, the protest mends to request Bashar Al Assad to let go of his power. However, government react violently by tortured, imprisoned and killed all the demonstrators. Then, the armed opposition groups began fighting back and form free Syrian army in order to overthrown the government. In addition, the divisions between secular and religious fighters, and between ethnic groups, continue to complicate the politics of the conflict.
To make it worse, the ongoing conflict gave huge impact on Syria’s economy especially on employment. The employment opportunities was hardly available for the Syrians. As result, they cannot afford to fulfil their basic needs as foods are expensive and the water supplies are in the government controlled area. Moreover, Syrian refugees face struggle to obtain basic necessities like security, food, and shelter (Edward 2015). Other serious impacts that Syrian have to face were on the access to education and decent social life. These contributes to high numbers of refugees from Syria.
How does the Gulf countries response to Syrian Refugees Crisis?
The International media and journalist have been giving heavy pressure and never-ending criticism to the Gulf States government regarding their action and foreign policy on Syrian Refugees Crisis. People from all around the world are calling out rich Gulf States for action on the crisis as most people aware that the Gulf States have not taken not a single Syrian refugees in their country. Due to that, the Gulf States Government started to response to the international media by giving several officials statements in defends of their action and policy. At the end of this part, we will see the similar pattern of response that the Gulf States used in their official statements.
On March 24 2016, the Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir declared “There are no camps or tents for Syrian refugees in the Kingdom. Rather, they enjoy the same rights to health care, education and work”. According to the Guardian (Sept, 2015), the Saudi “made it a point not to deal with them as refugees”, however, the government had issued residency permits to 100,000 Syrians who wished to stay in the kingdom, the official said. In addition to that, the Saudi government had supported Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and other host countries, including giving foreign humanitarian aid for about $700 million.
According to Hanafi (2017), United Arab Emirates have deported Syrians during these years of the Syrian conflict. Yet, in other reports by Open source investigations, the UAE had defended its response to the Syrian refugees crisis there were 142,000 Syrian nationals in the UAE and the government said “it has provided residency permits to more than 100,000 Syrians who have entered the country since 2011 and that more than 242,000 Syrian nationals currently live in the country.”
For Qatar, according to the representatives of the Syrian embassy in Qatar, there are around 60,000 Syrian expats living in Qatar, from which around 19,000 with no residency permits but visitor visa who have come since 2011. Qatar’s Supreme Education Council forbids students without residency permits from attending schools in Qatar, Syrian children on temporary visas cannot enrol there. For Kuwait, The Kuwaiti government continued allowing Syrian nationals already residing in Kuwait to sponsor their Syrian children for entry visas and residence permits
In Bahrain, the government had responded by publicizing the establishment of a number of projects for Syrian refugees in Al-Zaatari camp by the Royal Charity, including the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Educational Complex, the Bahrain Residential Complex which comprises 500 ready housing units, the Bahrain Social Center for Creativity, the Bahrain residential complex in A-Azraq refugee camp which consists of 1,000 ready housing units, and the Bahrain Basic School for Girls in Irbid. (Relief web, 2018)
In response to Syrian refugees’ crisis, The Sultanate of Oman spared no effort, in both the international and regional arenas, to resolve the Syrian crisis by peaceful means. However, Oman did called upon all the Syrian factions and the neighbouring countries to support efforts to restore security and stability to the country, and in the process, contribute to the elimination of terrorism that had gained a foothold in Syria. (Abdul Kareem, 2017)
In general, we can see that all the responses given by the Gulf States government were generous in terms of providing international aid and financial support, but honestly, they are lack of sympathy in accepting the Syrian refugees to shelter in their countries. The refugees needed place to shelter and to settle down more than ever, plus the journey that they had to struggle all the way to Europe is undoubtedly dangerous and risky. The unwelcoming responses from the Gulfs themselves had made the refugees to refuse to settle down there. The Gulf States themselves do not like to recognize the refugees as refugees, they choose to only let Syrian nationals to enter their country either with working visa or temporary residency which is a long process to get and cost a lot.
According to BBC (Michael Stephan, 2015), the reason why the Gulf States are not letting refugees in was mainly because of the instability fear, demographic balance and muted discourse. The instability fear raised from the concern of the national security from a strike back made by the potential Assad loyalist or even the terrorist group which can disguise themselves as refugees in order to enter and threatened the political stability of the Gulf States. Demographic balance are basically the insecurity of the influx of thousand Syrian refugees might overturn the norm of population of the state. Last, is the muted discourse, whereby, the Gulf States seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of foreigners coming in in large numbers and without employment or definite return date.
To sum up this part, the Gulf States do not really want to be bothered by the refugees crisis. Quoted from Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch for its Middle East and North Africa division:
“Burden sharing has no meaning in the Gulf, and the Saudi, Emirati and Qatari approach has been to sign a check and let everyone else deal with it,” (The Citizen Bureau, Sept, 2015)
Overall, it can be observed that the Syrian refugees crisis are aggravating year by year and the numbers are increasing. The crisis remain unsolved and it has been almost ten years which became somehow forgotten or normalize by many international communities and organizations around the world. In particular, Gulf countries policies to close their borders strictly and not allowing any Syrian refugees to seek for asylum is worrisome and inhumane. These Syrian refugees who seeking for asylum, they are no different from us and most of them are well educated people who have been involved in multiple businesses and working sectors. Let’s all hope that one day Gulf States will soon open their borders for at least some of these unfortunate refugees so that they would not have to risk their lives in search of proper place to live.
Aisyah Hadi is a Political Science degree holder from International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). Currently pursuing her study in Master of Strategic and Defense Studies in Universiti Malaya (UM).
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Ajar Demokrasi editorial stance