Saturday, September 12, 2015

On refugees

When I was in France, the topic of Syrian refugees was obviously a topic of discussion on the news, as it still is today. While Germany has been more than willing to take in refugees, other countries have not been so eager.

Several of the countries were called out by name by Faizullah Muradi.

On the surface, it can strike someone as odd. Why would Muslim countries with immense wealth refuse to take in other Muslims as refugees?

I figured that there had to be a reason for this, so I dug deeper.

The Gulf countries, the wealthiest states among the Arab world, are among the largest donors to Syrian refugees. But they do not take in refugees to their own countries: none of them officially recognize the legal concept of refugeehood. This is not a specific issue of hostility to Syrian refugees: the six Gulf monarchies have never signed the international conventions on refugee rights and statelessness, which began to be established after the Second World War.

This is true - all of these nations, as well as many other nations such as Barbados and (interestingly) Syria, have never signed the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Yet these countries have taken in Syrians - just not as refugees:

Thousands of Syrians fleeing the war have been accommodated in the Gulf, and many provided with benefits not usually available to migrant workers, like free access to healthcare and education. But they are on visitor or work visas because there is no legal category of refugeehood.

And this is not just an issue of semantics, since visitor and work visas are by nature temporary, meaning that any Syrian would eventually have to leave the country. And as sports fans know, a work visa in the Gulf is not necessarily a wonderful thing.

But forget about governments for a moment - what of the duties of a Muslim? While you really cannot separate "church" and "state" in the Muslim world, the Uhited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (admittedly not an authoritative source on Islam) argues that it is the Muslim's duty to take in refugees:

Islam requires believers to assist and protect vulnerable people and offers a number of mechanisms for their care and support. According to Islamic migration law (hijrah), individuals have the right both to seek and to be granted asylum in any Muslim state. Furthermore, it is the duty of Muslims to accept and protect refugees for as long as they seek protection. In comparison to modern refugee law, hijrah offers a broader definition of a refugee, and gives individuals, rather than states, the right to determine asylum. However, despite its significance in Islam, hijrah is rarely invoked by Muslim states today. The promotion of Islamic teachings on refugees could encourage Muslim states to widen their acceptance and protection of refugees.

Unfortunately for the UNHCR, there are two problems with this argument.

First, it is doubtful that the leadership of Saudi Arabia, guardians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, are going to let some pencil-pushing bureaucrat in New York or Geneva tell them what the truth is in Islam.

Second, we can't really cast stones at Muslims for not taking care of their own, when the inhabitants of many Christian nations are unwilling to do anything either.

We cannot help everybody through the world. Europe should help. Russian should help. China, they're not doing anything. The Gulf states are doing nothing. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, any of the gulf states, they're doing nothing. They should all help. And then maybe we could do something.

There is an opposing view:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
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