The world has been quick to condemn Europe for its reluctance to open the gates for the refugees fleeing conflict in Syria. Britain has been uptight, Hungary has thought about deploying its army at the borders and Slovakia wants only Christian refugees.
It has taken considerable public pressure and the images of a dead Syrian boy washed ashore on a Turkish beach for these governments to open their minds to this tragedy. As mentioned in this column earlier, though global migration stands at a whopping 230 million (2013), not all of these catch the world’s attention. According to some commentators, this is the biggest migration crisis Europe has witnessed since World War II.
However, at a time when Europe and far off nations like Australia, Brazil and Chile are welcoming Syrian refugees, the Arab sultanates are looking the other way. Little has been said about how Arab nations, especially the wealthy, prosperous six-nation GCC trading bloc, which has closed its gates and done precious little — a fact highlighted by Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, on Twitter.
The silence of the wealthy Arab nations is deafening when one sees that Syria’s not-so-wealthy neighbours have been generous: Turkey has taken in more than 2.5 million, Lebanon more than 1.2 million, Jordan more than 625,000 and Egypt about 135,000.
Also, on the financial aid front, the emirs have been tight-fisted and way behind the US, the UK and Germany. One of the arguments levelled against Europe is that it has the moral obligation to accommodate the refugees because the governments in Europe have not done enough to stop the unrest in Syria and Iraq.
By that metric, these Arab nations, after having invested billions of dollars in supporting opposition groups and Islamist factions fighting the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria, have a much greater responsibility to the fleeing millions.
None of these wealthy Arab nations are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention 1951, thereby exempting them from a legal obligation to take in refugees. What about the moral obligation? One of the goals of the 22-member Arab League is to work collectively towards the benefit of each member nation.
All this reiterates the fact that the much-talked-about Arab unity is a pipedream and a topic sheikhs like to talk about in the comfort of air-conditioned palaces while sipping Maghrebi mint tea. Being in a region that prides in its opulence and its billionaires, these nations can do more — and they should.