Why doesn’t Saudi Arabia accept any refugees? It’s a common enough comment, and one that hundreds of people have sent in to us here at Debating Europe. Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the region, and yet it allegedly hosts a grand total of zero(!) refugees, while nearby Turkey has received millions, and hundreds of thousands have fled to Europe.
We had a comment sent in from Klassen, arguing that wealthy Gulf Arab states should do more to shoulder their share of the burden:
You have Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc., who refuse to take in refugees, and it seems to me they are fiscally in better shape than us to do so. What’s up with that?
Social media has been abuzz with posts exposing the apparent hypocrisy of rich Middle Eastern oil states. For example, the UK-based Islamic news website IlmFeed posted the following infographic on their Facebook page, where tens of thousands of people liked and shared it:
But it’s more complicated than that. IlmFeed has been forced to admit that the numbers quoted in its infographic were misleading, and has since published a correction. The reason why Saudi Arabia appears to be hosting “zero” refugees is essentially because its legal system does not accept the existence of refugees; it is one of the few countries in the world that never ratified the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
In other words, Saudi Arabia has no legal obligation to recognise asylum applications. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia is hosting many Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war; according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, there are half a million Syrian “brothers and sisters in distress” living in Saudi Arabia. Officially classified as “migrant workers”, their position is precarious and they do not have the same rights afforded to refugees (for instance, Saudi Arabia has a history of carrying out summary deportations of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers at a time).
Nevertheless, there are those in Europe who suggest we copy the Saudi Arabian model. For example, we had a comment sent in by S.K. arguing that Europeans should tear up the 1951 refugee convention and start mass deportations:
I have a politically incorrect solution… How about we stop giving them asylum?!? […] I know it is politically incorrect and I know that under current international laws it’s questionable if not illegal, [so] my suggestion is: let’s change the international laws to make it legal.
Let people [continue to] legally get asylum in neighbouring countries, and / or on their own continent, but make it clear that this system does not exist to make someone’s dream of living in Paris, Zürich, London etc., become a reality…
Should the 1951 refugee convention be reformed? Is a legal framework designed to cope with population displacements following the Second World War still fit for the 21st century? Has globalisation changed things so much that we need a new set of rules? Or would abandoning our international obligations lead inevitably to the erosion of our values and liberties, with mass arrests and deportations the new norm?
To get a reaction, we put S.K.’s suggestion to Barbar Baloch, Spokesperson for Central Europe for the United Nation’s refugee agency, UNHCR. Here’s what he had to say:
For another perspective, we also spoke to Timothy Kirkhope, a British Conservative MEP whose government has been notoriously wary of international legal commitments (see, for example, their various objections to the European Convention on Human Rights). Did he therefore support scrapping the international rules governing asylum seekers and refugees?
Should the international right of asylum be scrapped? Are rules drawn up to cope with a post-WWII refugee crisis still fit for the 21st century and the myriad pressures of globalisation? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!