Are Arab nations doing enough to help Middle Eastern refugees, especially from Syria? Should Europe be doing more?

Syrian refugee Bissan Alabdullah, almost 3, near the Syrian border in Jordan, 20 January 2016
(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen, File)

By Nelson Graves

Are Arab nations doing enough to help Middle Eastern refugees, especially from Syria? Should Europe be doing more?

Those questions emerged from an article on refugees that we recently published and which focused on a News-Decoder panel discussion last month.

The article spurred two loyal readers to send in a series of comments laying out contrasting views. I’m delighted to reprint the gist of their comments because they are insightful and consistent with the respectful back-and-forth News-Decoder wants to promote.

“I’ll tell you what I think,” wrote Mike Arkus of the United States. “[T]he overall Arab and Muslim response to the crisis is beyond disgraceful. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, etc, have been weighed in the balance and found totally wanting.”

Arkus said Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey deserved credit for taking in most of the region’s refugees. “The generosity of Europe over all is enormous and much to be admired,” Arkus said. “But where, o where is the charity of the refugees’ enormously wealthy fellow Arabs and Muslims?”

“Worldwide, there is today simply too little humanitarian funding.”

Amina Abdiuahab of Italy replied, saying she agreed that Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia had not pulled their weight. “However, this does not mean that Europe shouldn’t do more, nor should Europe and all multilateral organisations be lifted of their responsibilities,” she said.

“Not only should Europe have the moral duty to do more — and it can do a lot more than it’s doing — but it should be in its own interest, too. The Middle East is at its doorstep.”

So I asked Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the United Nations relief agency, for his views. This is what he wrote in an email:

“Unfortunately this is a problem that goes beyond just the countries of the immediate region. Nor is it a problem that’s confined just to the Syria situation.

“Worldwide, there is today simply too little humanitarian funding to successfully address the needs of the more than 60 million of our fellow humans who are forcibly displaced. As a result, only about half the needs were met in 2015….

“I caution against the view that the Syria situation is the responsibility either of one group of countries or of one or other political, social or religious community who may or may not be doing enough. This is an international challenge, not a regional or national one.

“It’s impossible for just a handful of countries to successfully deal with it alone, but eminently and quickly fixable if countries work together (witness for example how past crises have been effectively solved such as the Indochina boat people situation on the 1970s-90s).”

The most money ever raised in one day for a humanitarian crisis.

As many of our readers know, last week donor and host countries raised over $11 billion for more than 22.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance both inside Syria and across the region. That was the most money ever raised in one day in response to a humanitarian crisis.

I’ve had a look at the 44 donor countries’ contributions for 2016. In absolute terms, leaving out the European Commission (which made the second biggest donation), here are the rankings of the top 10:

  1. Germany
  2. United States
  3. Britain
  4. Japan
  5. Norway
  6. Saudi Arabia
  7. UAE
  8. Netherlands
  9. Denmark
  10. Kuwait

Qatar was 11th and Bahrain 32nd. China was 18th.

If we adjust donations to take into account per capita gross domestic product, here are the top 10:

  1. Germany
  2. United States
  3. Britain
  4. Japan
  5. Saudi Arabia
  6. China
  7. UAE
  8. Norway
  9. Netherlands
  10. Kuwait

Qatar dropped to 16th, while Bahrain remained 32nd.

Special mention has to be made for Germany, whose per capita contribution for 2016 was nearly twice as big as that of the United States, the next biggest donor.

Also worth noting is that Hungary and Slovakia were not among donor nations. Luxembourg and Switzerland, ranked 1st and 4th in per capita GDP, ranked 34th and 20th in terms of per capita donations.

These figures concern financial donations at last week’s London conference. They do not take into account the costs of accommodating Syrian refugees, which have fallen mainly on Syria’s neighbors and increasingly on Europe.

One comment

Is the world doing enough for Syrian refugees?

  1. Of course, Edwards by his very position as a UN official cannot answer the specifics of the question posed to him with regard to individual donations by Muslim and Arab countries. With regard to the breakdown of last week’s London pledges, I’m not sure whether percentage of GDP is the right way to look at it, given their general overall poverty compared with their rulers’ loot.

    Saudi Arabia pledged $200 million. That is about 1.8 percent of the total. All Arab and Muslim countries combined provided about 6 per cent. So why should the UK be pledging more aid than the entire Arab and Muslim world combined for mainly Arab or Muslim people in distress, given the obscene wealth of their ruling classes?

    Malaysia pledged $50,000. Now how much was it that was deposited into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Swiss bank account? $700 million. And what about the 4$ billion the Swiss have cited in other ill-gotten Malaysian money?

    Much of the recent refugee and migrant surge into Europe has come from camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey where these people have already been housed but where lack of funding for humanitarian necessities such as food, medical care and education and the absence of possibilities for employment have confounded the problem.

    Those bashing Europe for not doing even more say that it’s in Europe’s interests to do so – whatever this means. Europe sees its interest in passing $3 billion to Turkey’s volatile and greedy Sultan Erdogan to sweet-talk and sweet-pocket him into stopping the flood by providing better conditions to the refugees inside his country. Mostly Muslim Malaysia’s Swiss accounts would more than cover that.

    Ideally, if Arab solidarity and Muslim religious obligations were followed, these poor people would have already been housed in well-run camp/communities close to their cultural, ethnic or religious environments, all paid for by their kith and kin and co-religionists. Disgustingly, this has not happened.

    So should everybody muck in when those closest to the people in distress ethnically, culturally and religiously default? Of course yes, by dint of what should be innate human and humane solidarity. You don’t leave people to starve and die.

    Will naming, blaming and shaming the immediate ethnic and religious families of those in distress propel them to do their duty? Very probably not.

    But to continue bashing Europe without at the same time laying the blame for lack of adequate response where it truly resides, as has been happening recently, is hypocrisy, moral blindness, or the result of intellectual suicide.

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