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Leonid Bershidsky

Why Don't Gulf States Accept More Refugees?

They're worried about sectarian tensions, for one thing.
Generous to a point.

Generous to a point.

Photographer: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images

Calls are getting louder for the oil-rich Gulf states to take in more Syrian refugees. In the Arab world itself, the opinion that they are not doing enough is widespread. Those countries, however, may not really be suitable destinations for the asylum seekers -- precisely because of their often deceptive cultural closeness to most of the Syrians fleeing the conflict.

The widely held opinion that Saudi Arabia, the biggest of the Gulf nations, hasn't taken in a single refugee may well be incorrect. Nabil Othman, acting regional representative to the Gulf region at the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, told Bloomberg there were 500,000 Syrians in that country. Saudi Arabia, like all of the Gulf states, is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention, so these displaced people are not officially designated as refugees.