Why is Saudi Arabia so sparsely populated

Arab worldWhy the Gulf States do not accept refugees

They are rich in natural resources and they are very sparsely populated. The Arab states on the Gulf could take in many refugees, but they don't. Instead, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Arab or Muslim countries come to Europe. Why is that?

Listeners and users have recently asked us this question several times. Here is the result of our research in the newsroom. First of all: the poorer countries of the Arab world such as Jordan and Lebanon have taken in millions of refugees. They have long since reached their limits. Turkey has also taken in millions of refugees - tens of times more than European nations. So you shouldn't blame these states, they rather need our support in helping refugees.

But it is precisely the richest countries in the region that are holding back with gentleness. The Kuwaiti security expert and chairman of the Forum for Peace and Security in the Gulf, Fahd al-Schalaimi, argued in the Arab program of France 24 with the living conditions in his country. He thinks that the cost of living in Kuwait is too high, and that refugees from Syria, for example, cannot fit in well there without a significant income of their own. Life in Lebanon or Turkey is much cheaper there. Therefore, according to Fahd al-Schalaimi, it is easier for the Gulf States to transfer money there. He also refers to the lack of infrastructure, for example to care for people with mental problems, trauma that existed as a result of the war and the flight. The Gulf states are not prepared for such aid.

Citizenship is like winning the lottery

Around 80 percent of the population of Qatar make up guest workers, who often live in poor conditions in the country. (DLF / Thorsten Gerald Schneiders) The Gulf States - that is Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. They are incredibly rich due to their oil and gas reserves, the proceeds of which they have been investing in a targeted manner for several years. The citizens of the country live in great prosperity, the average wages are well above the European level. In Qatar, for example, when a citizen is of legal age, a house or apartment is built by the state. You just have to say where in the country the new accommodation should be. Citizenship is therefore a kind of "winning the lottery" for many. It is therefore correspondingly difficult to obtain such citizenship - not even marrying paves the way here.

The Gulf States have another defining characteristic in common: a huge proportion of foreigners in the population. In Saudi Arabia it is around 30 percent, in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates the proportion of foreigners is around 80 percent. The people come mainly from India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia, but also from Europe and the USA.

Fear of social unrest

There is a huge gap between these foreigners and the few locals. They get nothing from the blessings of the state. On the contrary. Qatar is making headlines again and again in the course of the plans for the football World Cup in 2022 because of the catastrophic living and working conditions for the guest workers.

There are no social systems based on the European model in the Gulf. The Gulf States act restrictively according to the principle that if you lose your job as a foreigner, you have to leave the country. It doesn't matter whether you are an unskilled worker or an academic. This principle, which has been lived for years, blocks the very idea of ​​taking in refugees and even paying for them temporarily. Added to this is the fear that taking in refugees could lead to social unrest and shake the ultimately fragile state systems. "What has been criticized as a lack of solidarity among Arabs or as 'ransom' through generous donations is rooted in massive concerns about a threat to national security," said Nadine Scharfenort to Deutschlandfunk. The scientist at the University of Mainz is a specialist in the geographical and economic development of the region.View of Sheikh Zayed Road and its skyline in the Emirate of Dubai. It is the connecting road between the Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. (picture alliance / dpa / Robert Schlesinger)

The Gulf region is consistently run by authoritarian regimes. Significant opposition will not be tolerated. The tranquility in the country is often bought because the state ensures the material prosperity of the locals. And the guest workers know: If they express their dissatisfaction too loudly, they will be expelled. Many citizens therefore behave calmly, take the pleasant side of life with them and accept the constraints. Especially since the uprisings in the Arab "brother states" all show what chaos can result in the worst case.

Fear of an alliance between Arabs living abroad and opposition members

Professor Günter Meyer, head of the Center for Research on the Arab World at the University of Mainz and chairman of the German Working Group on the Middle East (DAVO), points to a historical component as the cause of the negative attitude towards refugees. He told the Internet radio "detektor.fm" that the countries in the region are still suffering from the trauma of the occupation of the Great Mosque of Mecca in 1979. At that time, during the pilgrimage, Arabs from other countries joined forces with opposition members in Saudi Arabia to to start this terrorist attack. Hundreds of Islamists brought many believers under their power. It took two weeks and bloody fighting to end the occupation.

Günter Meyer explains that as a result, Saudi Arabia not only tightened security regulations in the country, but also introduced a different immigration policy. Fewer guest workers from Arab countries have been allowed into the country and from now on more have been accepted from Southeast Asia or India. In this way, the aim is to prevent alliances between Arab foreigners and local opposition activists from coming back to this day.

Massive problems with illegal immigrants

However, Nadine Scharfenort interjects, the current reports hardly pay attention to the fact that the Gulf states have also accepted Palestinians, Lebanese and Yemenis in recent years. "However, they were not explicitly declared as refugees," she explains, adding: "There are already massive problems with illegal immigrants."