U.A.E. Says Aid Not Shelter Is Way to Help Syria Refugees

Allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the United Arab Emirates isn’t in the long-term interest of those fleeing the war, a U.A.E. government official said Thursday.

Instead, the government will continue to help refugees via humanitarian aid, while also allowing those who already have relatives in the U.A.E. to join them, the official said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg.

“We are committed to continuing our support for those affected by this tragic conflict,” the official said.

Syria’s war has displaced more than 6 million people internally and forced more than 4 million to flee to other countries, according to the United Nations. Oil-rich Gulf nations are facing growing criticism for not opening their doors amid widespread media coverage of refugees drowning and suffocating while trying to reach Europe.

The U.A.E. has given safe haven to thousands of Syrians, as well as Palestinians with Syrian documents, who have joined their families, and thousands more have arrived on visitor visas that can be renewed, the official said.

“They are refugees from their homes, even if they choose not to register formally with the United Nations or other bodies,” he said.

The U.A.E. has also given more than $537 million in humanitarian aid, the official said.

The Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan is entirely funded by the U.A.E., while a field hospital set up in 2012 by the U.A.E. in Jordan treated about 100,000 patients during its first 18 months, “with many more since,” the official said.

Of the registered refugees outside Syria, over half are spread across Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, while 1.9 million are in Turkey and 24,000 in North Africa, according to the UN.

“We believe that it is in the best long term interests of the refugees to be close to their homes, so that it will be easier for them to return when this conflict has come to an end,” the official said.