According to CNN and the the Washington Post, there are “zero” Syrian refugees in Saudi Arabia and many other neighboring countries, but we have first-hand accounts from refugees who live there after fleeing extreme violence in Syria.
Why the confusion? The UNHCR counts refugees using the 1951 Refugee Convention, among other protocols. Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE did not sign any UN protocols on refugees, so most refugees residing in these areas aren’t counted by agencies like the UNHCR.
Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, Syrians residing there are classified as “Arab brothers and sisters in distress” instead of “refugees.” We cannot ignore these people due to a difference in word choice. How can we ensure their safety in countries with regular human rights abuses? How can we ensure their safety if they are sent back to Syria? These people meet the UN definition of “refugee” just as much as any other Syrian fleeing the war torn country in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and the EU. The refugee crisis is not “our" problem if it is blamed on Arab states, but this “human problem” is everyone’s responsibility. These people exist. These people should be safe.
BREAKDOWN BY COUNTRY
YEMEN: “Syrians arriving in Yemen are granted a three-month renewable visit visa, but many do not officially register with the UN for fear of being reported to Syrian authorities,” said Ghada Hassan, a spokesperson for UNOCHA. With Yemen's main cities largely evacuated, Hassan said Syrians, along with other Yemenis, have encountered challenges similar to those facing residents back in Syria, including a lack of employment, security, fuel, water, food, and medical services.
KUWAIT: In 2011, Kuwait banned entry to new Syrians but since then, they have lightened this policy and have released a statement saying that it would not deport Syrian nationals whose visas had expired.
UAE: Last year, the International Red Cross/ Red Crescent recognized the UAE as the world’s top humanitarian donor, in large part due to its support for displaced Syrians in Jordan.
OMAN: We have found no evidence of Syrian refugees in Oman, but they have taken in thousands of Yemeni refugees.
IRAN: We have found reports that Iran is recruiting Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, promising a monthly salary and residence permits in exchange for fighting.
BAHRAIN: There were reports that Bahrain was providing support to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan in an attempt to naturalize Sunni Syrian refugees, however this has been denied by Bahrain’s government.
Sources: UNHCR, Bloomberg, UAE Embassy, WashingtonInstitute, Reuters, Times of Oman, GulfNews, TimesofIsrael, GulfMigration, TIME, CNN, Washington Post, EuroNews, The Guardian