Refugees in Saudi Arabia
The Syrian refugee crisis has become the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Millions of people have been forced to make new homes in foreign countries. These countries often struggle to absorb the number of refugees needing homes. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, are opposed to opening their doors to people seeking refuge altogether. This article provides 10 facts about refugees in Saudi Arabia and a few problems they have experienced during their transition process.

10 Important Facts About Refugees in Saudi Arabia

  1. Refugees in Saudi Arabia have had a difficult time initially entering the country. Saudi Arabia has faced a series of criticisms for refusing to open their doors to these refugees.
  2. Social media, the news and human rights reports have taken turns in shaming Saudi Arabia for its refusal. Saudi Arabia denies these criticisms, saying that they have given residency to 100,000 people during the crisis.
  3. The country is home to a tent city, Mina, spanning 20 square kilometers and holding about 100,000 tents. Refugees in Saudi Arabia have not been permitted to stay in these tents because they hold religious significance as a stop on the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Each tent costs between $500 and $3,500.
  4. The Mina tent city has not been opened to people seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia because their government claims that this is not what such people want. The government has also voted against giving the displaced people the official designation of “refugee.”
  5. Due to increased criticism, in 2016 Saudi Arabia provided $75 million to aid refugees. However, with the number of people seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia continuously growing, the country continues to dismiss their status and refrains from putting them in refugee camps.
  6. Since Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the U.N. Convention on Refugees, there is some discrepancy over the exact number of refugees in Saudi Arabia.
  7. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says there are between 100,000 and 500,000 refugees in the country, but some disagree that this number is not representative enough of the Saudi population of 31 million.
  8. A significant reason for Saudi Arabia closing its doors to people seeking refuge has to do with the Islamic State and Syrian Sunni Muslims. A majority of the refugees fleeing to Saudi Arabia are from Sunni areas of Syria–areas that play host to the Islamic State. Saudi Arabian forces have bombed these regions and want to know if the refugees are escaping ISIS or the bombings.
  9. The overarching reason that people seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia are being denied status or even shut out of the country has to do with issues of national security more than threats to demographic stability.
  10. The foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council have asked Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries also halting entry to refugees to find a solution to the crisis.

The Syrian refugee crisis continues to affect a large percentage of our world. The Syrians can no longer live in safety within their country, and so they seek safer lands. But the sheer number of refugees creates trouble for host countries trying to integrate refugees into society. This problem warrants a need for significant humanitarian aid and cooperation.

Katelynn Kenworthy

Photo: Flickr

During President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, he stressed the importance of combating global terrorism and addressing extremism within the country. With a population exceeding 28 million people, Saudi Arabia’s extreme temperatures and the shortage of groundwater have been detrimental toward providing sufficient amounts of consumable water to the country. The poor water quality in Saudi Arabia demonstrates a greater risk to the region than global terrorism does.

As a leading producer of oil and natural gas, Saudi Arabia continues to hold roughly 16 percent of the world’s oil reserves. Unfortunately, declining global oil prices in recent years have significantly affected Saudi Arabia’s economy, leading to governmental cuts and taxes in order to compensate for economic losses.

These struggles have led to problematic issues for the state to address, especially the water quality in Saudi Arabia. Since the country holds no permanent rivers or lakes and rainfall is a rarity, underground reservoirs were built in order to preserve water throughout the region. In addition to these reservoirs, Saudi Arabia utilizes desalinated water.

The process of desalinization extracts certain minerals from saline water, thus creating consumable water for the region. There are 27 desalination stations throughout the country, fully operable by the Saline Water Conservation Corporation. Together, these stations produce more than 792 million gallons of water per day for Saudi Arabia, which is currently the largest country that processes desalinated water.

As oil revenues continue to decline, Saudi Arabia has begun taxing water in order to address the region’s threatening debt. These taxes support the numerous warnings that predict the region’s groundwater will run out in the next 12 years. These warnings are spread throughout several Gulf countries, primarily due to the overwhelming water consumption throughout these regions, which highlights some of the highest levels per capita in the world.

The region relies on two sources of water: groundwater, which accounts for 98 percent of the water sources throughout Saudi Arabia, and water produced from desalination plants. In light of recent warnings, Saudi Arabia continues to improve water conditions through additional desalination plants and innovative technological advancements, which hope to enhance the water quality in Saudi Arabia and save millions of lives throughout the region.

Brandon Johnson

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Saudi Arabia and War in Syria
The ongoing war in Syria has left many of its citizens desperate for a safe place to live. In response, government officials in Saudi Arabia have allowed the entry of Syrian refugees. However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is considered a Gulf state and thus not part of the 1951 United Nation Refugee Convention. It is, therefore, entirely up to state officials to determine if and how many refugees should be allowed entrance into the state.

Refugees in Saudi Arabia are required to possess a passport and a visa prior to entry. Moreover, the state’s interactions in the Syrian war coupled with its unwillingness to let in more Syrian refugees as compared to other Gulf states has made it subject to much criticism.

Syrian scholar Ali Al-Ahmed has inferred that one of the reasons why officials are cautious of allowing the entry of refugees in Saudi Arabia is the notion that Syrians present a major “cultural and political risk.” In other words, they fear that allowing in too many Syrians at once would constitute a major threat to security.

Currently, there are roughly 895,000 Syrian refugees in Saudi Arabia. Some are students and a large amount are adults who work full-time within the Arab state. Yet it has been predicted that the kingdom will never allow access to more than one million Syrian refugees at a given time.

According to Abdulla Al-Rabeeah, chief of the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid (KSRelief), more effort has been put forth towards assisting individuals who are in desperate need of relief. Al-Rabeeah stated that KSRelief has “carried out 127 projects in Yemen providing relief and humanitarian aid, as well as shelter, in addition to agricultural and water programs.” Furthermore, Al-Rabeeah reported that Saudi Arabia has allocated a total of $700 million in humanitarian aid and relief to 37 countries, including Syria.

Lael Pierce

Photo: Flickr

Crisis in Yemen
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is reaching new heights. There is a proxy war being fought between the Sunni Muslim state of Saudi Arabia and the Shiite Muslim state of Iran. More than 10,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed and roughly 2.1 million have been displaced.

According to the U.N., 80 percent of the population is in need of some form of humanitarian aid. There is a water shortage that may completely deteriorate in 2017. There are now 21 million people dependent on international aid to survive.

Factors Contributing to the Crisis

The Houthi uprising began in the wake of the Tunisian civil war in 2011. This was a major security concern for the Saudi government, as it shares its southern border with Yemen. Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, backed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S., was forced to resign from office in 2011. This occurred after widespread protests were held in opposition to his illegal business dealing and his amassed $60 billion. A U.N. expert panel stated in a report that, “Many have argued that the country’s spiraling debt and economic problems would be alleviated with a repatriation of these alleged stolen assets.”

Power was ceded to Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in February 2012. Houthi rebels then took control of Sana’a, the capital city, through a string of terrorist attacks. Hadi fled the country.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen continued to worsen with a growing food deficit, increasing drought and terrorism concerns. Half of Yemen’s population was living below the poverty line, and almost half of the population was under the age of 18 and unemployed. Saudi Arabia led a U.S., U.K., and France-backed coalition in support of Hadi’s internationally recognized government against the Houthi rebels.

Former secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon announced that the U.N. had documentation of widespread violations of children’s rights in Syria that were committed as part of the Houthi child soldier recruitment efforts, as well as the child casualties from the Saudi airstrikes. Saudi Arabia threatened that if it were not removed from the report, they would cut off its funding to the U.N. and incredulously, the threat succeeded. This miscarriage of justice has hurt the U.N.’s reputation as an impartial mediator in the conflict.

War crimes are being committed on both sides as the humanitarian crisis in Yemen carries on. Unfortunately, these crimes will likely continue without reprimand or sanctions as Saudi allies, like the U.S., have vetoed the U.N.’s independent international investigation into these war crimes. This effectively kills any charges against the Saudi’s or Houthi rebels, endangering countless more children’s lives.

Joshua Ward

Photo: Flickr

Saudi Arabia
King Salman of Saudi Arabia traveled to Indonesia in March to promote economic ties, and the visit sparked some discussion on the current state of inequality in Saudi Arabia. The cost of the trip was estimated at $18 million, involving six Boeing passenger jets and a military transport aircraft, which held two electric elevators and a limousine.

The Saudi family is the richest in the world, worth an estimated total of $1.4 trillion, predominately due to its assets in petroleum. However, Saudi Arabia is still relatively poor; with 20 percent of people living in poverty, the problem of income inequality in Saudi Arabia is quite evident.

Despite an annual oil revenue of more than $200 billion, most Saudis lack adequate housing, healthcare, sanitation and education. Author Karen House highlights these issues in her book On Saudi Arabia. Most of the oil revenue flows right into the hands of the royal family. At least 80 percent of the revenue in the Saudi treasury comes from petroleum, but the average Saudi citizen does not benefit from those gains. The central government in Riyadh, where the royal family is settled, receives most of the oil profits. This sustains a strong monarchy and keeps the majority poor and powerless. The public simply has no say in how the government spends its money.

Moreover, with so much revenue coming in from oil, the government is still unable to provide jobs for its citizens. Saudi Arabia provides one in four barrels of oil exported around the world, yet 40 percent of Saudi youth between twenty and twenty-four are unemployed. The unemployment is partly due to the fact that 90 percent of all employees in the private sector are foreign workers.

The consequences of having a corrupt government are highlighted in times of chaos. In January 2011, during the Cairo revolution, the city of Jeddah flooded because the monarchy failed to establish basic protections against the weather. Ten people died due to improper sewerage and drainage. The inadequate preparation was blamed on corrupt businesses and the government stealing money from both sewer and drain-related construction projects.

Education in Saudi Arabia is of a poor quality and tends to exclude females. The government restricts the economic opportunities of women, who are denied the same rights as men. The lack of economic freedom also correlates with the high rates of poverty, as 40 percent of Saudis live in poverty and at least 60 percent cannot afford a home.

Saudi Arabia is one of the richest nations in the world, yet the majority of the population lacks basic amenities. The poverty rates show clear income disparity in Saudi Arabia and it needs to be further addressed.

Marcelo Guadiana

Photo: Flickr

This week, Saudi Arabia launched a renewable energy program that was outlined in late December. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih announced that between 30 and 50 billion dollars will be invested into the program. Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia is currently somewhat non-existent, but the focus of the program will redirect the country to focus on aspects that will reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

By 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to produce 70% of its power from natural gas and 30% from renewable energy. At an energy conference in late December, al-Falih expressed the country’s hope to generate approximately 10 gigawatts from solar and wind power by 2023. By the time the initiative is implemented, if fully executed, the country hopes to harness 700 gigawatts of alternative energy. The program will fund the construction of several wind and solar energy plants throughout the country.

Saudi Arabia is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC’s) largest contributor and a top exporter of crude oil. Consequently, Saudis have struggled economically with budget deficits due to oil prices. The demand for power in the country is growing steadily, at about 8% annually. The renewable energy program can improve the economy by creating jobs and adding diversity to the country’s source of income.

Aside from economic benefits, Saudi Arabia recognizes the humanitarian benefits of investing in alternative energy sources and the environmental toll that total reliance on oil and gas can take. Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia will help the country meet worldwide sustainability goals and steer away from the exclusive use of crude oil.

Al-Falih has also spoken out about intentions to connect with energy initiatives in Yemen, Jordan and Egypt. Though he did not elaborate, a potential partnership between the countries in the region could be revolutionary for the production of renewable energy in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Earlier in February, the energy ministry in Saudi Arabia announced the creation of The Renewable Energy Project Development Office to oversee the deployment of clean energy and monitor the progress of the project. The project also aims to direct funding into nuclear energy, which could cause controversy on the international stage in regards to domestic and international security topics.

Although the investment will create jobs in new sectors, funding for the program is said to be coming partially from cuts to welfare programs. Although it is too early in the project to draw any conclusions, there are questions about how these budget cuts will affect the Saudi people.

Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia has the potential to lay groundwork for surrounding nations looking to establish alternative energy programs. This is the hope of the international community as the country commits to reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Top 5 Non-Democratic Countries
Every person, both in democratic and non-democratic countries, is born with certain unalienable rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People everywhere, especially today, want the freedom to not only to be their own leader, but also to excel and enjoy life the way they intend to. But even today, there are countries that lack the basic human rights and prevent their own people from excelling under one unquestionable monarch. Democracy is the most common type of rule because it seeks to safeguard freedom and choice by keeping people involved at every level. While it can’t be said that non-democratic countries always constrain people from basic freedom, it is too often the case, as is seen in these five non-democratic countries.

  1. Saudi Arabia
    This is a prominent example of one of the many non-democratic countries that lack basic human rights. There is an absolute monarch in Saudi Arabia where the king, currently Salman of Saudi Arabia, serves as the country’s head of state, leader of the national government and commander-in-chief of the nation’s military. The people of Saudi Arabia are denied any substantial voice as authorities systematically discriminate against women and religious minorities, and judicial punishments are unbelievably inhumane. In 2015 alone, Saudi Arabia carried out 158 executions, 63 for non-violent drug crimes, according to the Human Rights Watch.
  2. North Korea
    As one of the world’s most secretive and repressive societies, North Korea is an authoritarian state currently run by the supreme leader Kim-Jong Un. The government imposes harsh restrictions on freedom of information and movement by threatening the people with forced labor and public executions. A 2014 UN report documented extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion and other sexual violence in North Korea.
  3. Vietnam
    Vietnam is a one-party communist state where the president is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of government. Vietnam actively suppresses any religious rights and the only party that rules the country has a complete monopoly on political power. Basic rights, including freedom of speech, opinion, press, association and religion, are restricted. On a positive note, the government of Vietnam and the World Bank Group jointly prepared a report, Vietnam 2035, that lays out their goal of equity and a reform of the lower middle class.
  4. Jordan
    Jordan, an Arab nation on the east bank of the Jordan River, is a constitutional monarchy where the Monarch is the head of state, the chief executive and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Jordan restricts freedom of expression and speech by prosecuting their citizens for ‘insulting an official body’ or speaking against the King. Jordan also discriminates against women by not allowing them to pass Jordanian citizenship to their children.
  5. China
    China is the biggest communist state where the government controls over 50 percent of the economy. Because of the government’s reluctance to allow western influences, it enforces strong internet censorship on the world’s top rated websites like Google, Facebook, Twitter and many others. Many fundamental human rights are limited, including freedom of expression, association, assembly and religion.

Other non-democratic countries include Turkmenistan, the U.K., Cuba, Iraq and many others. But whether a government is democratic or non-democratic, the priority should be for its citizens to enjoy basic human rights.

Mayan Derhy

Photo: Flickr

Health_SaudiArabia MERSAn outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was reported in Saudi Arabia on March 21, 2016. Mers-CoV is a viral respiratory illness new to humans. The first case was reported in 2012. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MERS has a high mortality rate, three to four of every 10 patients who become ill with MERS die.

Caused by a coronavirus and found in camels, the illness has been linked to countries near the Arabian Peninsula. Health organizations such as WHO and the CDC advise against consuming raw camel products like meat and milk that is not pasteurized.

Due to travel, outbreaks have occurred in 26 countries throughout the globe, including cases in the U.S. The largest outbreak outside of the Middle East occurred in the Republic of North Korea in 2015.

A typical case of MERS begins with a cough, fever and shortness of breath. If the virus progresses, an individual can experience pneumonia, kidney failure or septic shock.

“It is not always possible to identify people with MERS-CoV early because the early symptoms are non-specific. For this reason, all health care facilities should have standard infection prevention and control practices in place for infectious diseases,” according to the World Health Organization. “It is also important to investigate the travel history of patients who present with respiratory infection.”

Human-to-human transmission has not been common except in places where there is extremely close contact, such as health care facilities. People with diabetes, renal failure, lung disease and compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to becoming infected with MERS and should be evaluated immediately after being in close proximity to the disease.

There is not yet a vaccine for MERS or any specific antiviral treatment. Symptoms of the illness can be relieved with medical care. Preventative actions such as hand washing, avoiding those infected and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. These actions serve as the only forms of protection at this point.

“WHO is working with clinicians and scientists to gather and share scientific evidence to better understand the virus and the disease it causes, and to determine outbreak response priorities, treatment strategies, and clinical management approaches,” WHO said about their response to MERS.

Of the four cases reported this month in Saudi Arabia, one patient died.

Emily Ednoff

Photo: Wikipedia

Saudi Arabia’s municipal elections will be held on December 12 and for the first time, women will be allowed to vote for municipal council leaders.

Municipal council elections occur every four years in Saudi Arabia. Two-thirds of the council members must be voted in and the Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs must appoint the other third.

The late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud granted women the right to vote as well as run as candidates in 2011. Approximately 70 women are intending to register as municipal council leader candidates. Another 80 women are planning on registering as campaign managers.

The Baladi (My Country) campaign is a political campaign run by Saudi women activists. The campaign was planning to bring in teachers and trainers from different Arab countries as well as the United Nations for campaigning workshops.

The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs stopped Baladi from holding the training workshops in an attempt to unify the election programme.

Women and men will have separate polling centers for voting. In Makkah, there will be 40 polling centers with 14 set aside for women.

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have gradually increased and a royal decree issued by Abdullah in 2013 required the Consultative Council to be at least 20 percent women. The Consultative Council is an advisory body that is royally appointed.

Although these rights have made improvements for women in Saudi Arabia, they are still far from equal. A male guardian must accompany the women when they travel or go to school. They are not permitted to drive.

Voter registration for the municipal council elections began on August 22 and will end on September 14. Candidate registration runs from August 30 until September 17.

Iona Brannon

Sources: Al Arabiya News, Al Jazeera 1, Al Jazeera 2, CNN, Saudi National Portal, Time
Photo: Google Images

King Salman CenterSaudi Arabia, the Arab world’s leader in humanitarian aid, recently launched the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Works, or KSC. The center, which is named for the Gulf state’s new monarch, is expected to revolutionize the Saudis’ current system of aid distribution.

The Saudi government announced the creation of the KSC in May, to little press coverage. Many hope that the new aid body will improve the way Saudi Arabia responds to humanitarian crises in the region and around the globe.

Last year alone, Saudi Arabia spent more than $736 million on aid, making the country the eighth largest humanitarian donor in the world. However, the Saudi aid system has been widely criticized as lacking coordination and professionalism. Without a central agency to manage aid, experts had difficulty tracking how and where money was donated.

The bureaucratic nature of the system also resulted in a large waste of resources. Saeed Hersi, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Gulf, says that in the past, competing bodies within the Saudi government have complicated the aid process. Although several organizations will still control the distribution of funds, Hersi explains, “Now with the center we have a centralized point of contact and reference.”

The Saudi government has ambitious goals for the center. King Salman Center spokesman Rafaat Sabbagh reported that the program’s officials are eager to learn from the experience of United States Agency for International Development and the UK’s Department for International Development, or DFID. He also says that the center will have some autonomy from the monarchy, and in some cases will work independently to provide relief.

“Our work is not only for one country,” Sabbagh explains. “Whenever there are people in need, especially with natural disasters, we will be there.”

A source from the United Nations reports that the structure of the KSC could look similar to that of USAID, with various departments for monitoring, evaluation and research.

The Saudis have been lavish donors in the past, but Sabbagh says that the government wants to end its reputation as the humanitarian world’s “cash cow.” The KSC will provide new structure to the country’s aid delivery and help the government channel more of its funds through its own organizations, rather than UN-led programs.

In the coming months, the King Salman Center will oversee the distribution of $274 million in aid to Yemen. Though the Saudis pledged the quarter of a billion dollars in April, little has actually been delivered. While the U.N. expected to receive the money directly, the launch of the KSC has complicated the process. Recently, the Saudi government announced that its funds would be split between nine different U.N. agencies and managed by the newly-created KSC. The kingdom has also added other terms to the aid that one U.N. official called “unacceptable.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, estimates that more than 21 million Yemenis are still in need of humanitarian assistance. Still, some NGOs have refused to accept Saudi aid altogether, claiming that the Gulf state’s blockades and bombing are the cause of the humanitarian crisis. Only the day before the Saudis pledged their millions to Yemeni aid, Human Rights Watch reported that a Saudi airstrike killed 31 civilians in a dairy factory.

In a July 7 meeting with Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, Royal Court Advisor and Supervisor of the KSC, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees praised the new program for its work with Yemeni refugees. Yet for now, many in the international community remain skeptical of whether the Saudis will follow through on their promises of aid.

Caitlin Harrison

Sources: IRIN News, IRIN News 2, Vice News
Photo: IRIN News