UAE to welcome 15,000 refugees from Syria

The UAE will welcome 15,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.

ABU DHABI // The UAE will welcome 15,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.

Speaking at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees held at the United Nations headquarters in New York this week, Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, said 115,000 Syrians lived and worked in the UAE before the Syrian crisis erupted five years ago, while another 123,000 have been welcomed to the country since.

“[They] joined more than 200 different nationalities and ethnicities that make up the tapestry of our diverse society and whose active and significant contributions are a clear rebuttal to the global wave of xenophobia,” Ms Al Hashimy said.

“We meet at a critical time. The number of refugees and displaced persons is the largest in modern history.”

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 4.8 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6m are displaced within Syria.

“This crisis is being driven by a series of interlinked conflicts, fuelled by extremism that crosses borders and transcends geographies,” Ms Al Hashimy said. “However, what brings us together today is our collective commitment to strengthening international cooperation and action, through a comprehensive ­approach to refugee crises.”

She said a source of hope had to be offered for the displaced, allowing them to maintain dignity, return home, reintegrate themselves into their societies and rebuild their countries and their lives.

“Over the past five years, the UAE has provided more than US$750 million to support Syrian refugees, mainly in neighbouring countries that are facing considerable pressure.

“The UAE believes that we must not just meet the basic needs of refugees, but that we also maintain their dignity and offer hope for their future.

“In refugee camps that the UAE has set up in Jordan, Northern Iraq, even in Greece, we provide the basic life-saving support such as shelter, food, basic health, water and sanitation. We are also looking to ­address often neglected services like rehabilitation, ­education in emergencies, cash for food and work, vocational training and care for those with mental illnesses.”

Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region and President of Emirates Red Crescent, said yesterday that the UAE was playing a “pivotal role” in backing international efforts for Syrian refugees.

He said the UAE’s welcoming of refugees was part of its humanitarian responsibility, pledging that the Emirates would remain a “protective shield” for them.

Political and security analysts said the move demonstrated continued efforts from the UAE in helping alleviate the conflict.

“Legally speaking, the UAE is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and is not legally obliged to allow refugees to stay,” said Ahmed Al Attar, assistant director of defence and security at Abu Dhabi-based think tank the Delma Institute.

“However, the UAE has allowed 123,000 Syrians to relocate to the UAE since 2011. Contrasted with the fact that there are only circa one million Emiratis in the UAE, this number is one of the highest in the world.”

He said the country’s approach until this point had been to allow in Syrian professionals and families, as it allows for residence for employment only. “[The UAE is] a country where there are big demographic concerns and where expatriates outnumber nationals 8 to 1,” Mr Al Attar said.

“But this recent change means that the UAE is likely to allow in refugees, potentially without selection for whether they are professional or not, at a number which it views as manageable, which equates to around eight to 10 people a day.”

The UAE is one of the largest per capita donors and contributor to humanitarian and development aid in the world.

“It has a strong legacy of efforts,” said Sabahat Khan, senior analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

“The decision to welcome Syrian refugees with a multi-year programme will build on that legacy and create opportunities as well as new capacities here in support of its international assistance efforts moving forward.”

“Syrians have been an important diaspora in the UAE for decades and this move is a reaffirmation of their historical association.”

Others said the acceptance of Syrian refugees comes as the UAE assumes a far larger role in regional and international affairs.

“With its huge accumulated experience and much acquired capabilities of the UAE Red Crescent, the country is well-poised to play a significant role in humanitarian efforts worldwide,” said Dr Albadr Al Shateri, adjunct professor at the National Defence College.

Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM


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