Friday, June 08, 2012

Arabs are very nice to their refugees - unless they happen to be Palestinian

From Al Jazeera:
Hundreds of Syrians approach the agency daily to register for its services and protection, pushing the total number of registered Syrian refugees in Jordan to over 22,000, the UNHCR in Amman has said.

Andrew Harper, the UN refugee agency's country representative, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that 7,800 Syrian refugees had been registered in May 2012, marking the highest number of registrations in a single month since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government began 14 months ago.

Jordan now has more registered Syrian refugees than Turkey, Harper said.

The UNHCR expects this upward trend to continue with the agency's increased outreach efforts and recent dispatch of a mobile office to the border city of Ramtha.

Harper said that the number of registered refugees is unrepresentative of the total number of Syrians in need, which the government places at 120,000.

According to the UNHCR, around half of the registered refugees come from Homs, which has been pounded by the Syrian government, and just over a fourth originate from Deraa.

Harper maintains that the Jordanian government and people have been exemplary in opening their borders and communities to Syrians.

The UNHCR is trying to mobilise resources from the international community and Gulf Arab countries because it feels Syrians will be staying in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for some time.

Local communities have absorbed the bulk of the burden and challenges that hosting Syrians poses for Jordan.

Syrians and Jordanians have connections and family ties and that is why community-based efforts to assist Syrians in Jordan have been extraordinary.

Sheikh Omar al-Zoubi, a Jordanian from the border town of Ramtha, has taken it upon himself to collect donations to fund the treatment of injured Syrian refugees who cross over.

He says people’s contributions have been exemplary. He mentions that he once managed to collect $17,000 in one day to pay a hospital bill for one Syrian patient.

Zoubi, a devout Muslim, says the volunteers and donors he works with do not belong to a certain group or political party, but are rather helping Syrians out of a religious motive.

He said “we collect donations to rent homes for them and treat them and we ask Allah to bring them victory and to get rid of their country’s tyrant".

Zoubi says Saudi and Qatari individuals have been approaching him to donate money to Syrians in Jordan.

Arabs are known for their hospitality and taking care of their own. The commendable efforts being made to take care of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are not anomalous - Syria alone absorbed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees during the Gulf War. There have been other major population movements within the Arab world during times of war.

Although not an exact analogy, the difference between how Arabs are treating Syrian refugees in 2012 and how they have treated Palestinian Arab refugees from 1948 through today  is striking.

Just like today's Syrians, most of the 1948 Palestinian Arabs fled the fighting our of fear. Just like today's Syrians, one reason they left their homes was because they felt that life would be better for them in a friendly neighboring Arab country.

But Palestinian Arab refugees are treated differently.

One reason is because Israel's victory in 1948 shamed the Arabs so much that they didn't want to be reminded of their military loss to the weak Jews, and every Palestinian Arab was an human symbol of Arab defeat.

Another was that the Arabs blamed the West for Israel's existence and for the refugee plight. An oft-repeated Arab saying at the time was that the refugees were created by the UN with its partition resolution, so the UN should take care of them. They didn't want to take responsibility so they refused, and the West had no option but to step in or risk the deaths of thousands. Arabs didn't care. This is why the amount of money given to UNRWA from Arab states remains a mere pittance even today.

A third reason could be seen from another recent refugee population. During the Gulf war, Syria and other Arab nations were happy to accept Iraqi refugees - except for those of Palestinian lineage. They kept those thousands of Iraqi Palestinian refugees in horrible camps on the border between Syria and Iraq, and it took a couple of years for UNHCR to find them countries to move to, mostly in the West. Not only that, but Arabs publicly and bitterly complained at UNHCR's efforts to find them new homes and to make them lose their refugee status! They felt that for every refugee to be resettled in the West, that was one less who might identify as "Palestinian" and one less who would eventually help destroy Israel.

The Arabs might be charitable towards their own, but their desire to destroy Israel is much, much stronger. And every single "refugee" is worth more in the additional pressure he or she seems to add to eventually achieving that goal.

And if you don't believe this - then explain why Jordan wantis to segregate Syrian Palestinian refugees from other Syrian refugees, and stop them from coming into Jordan proper?

It is heartwarming to see extensive Arab efforts to help Syrian refugees, but it also shows by contrast how awful the Arab world continues to treat Palestinians.

(h/t Yoel)