Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Since the establishment of modern-day Saudi Arabia in 1932, it has been a land of hospitality for many of those who fled conflicts and persecution in neighboring Arab countries. At that time many Arab countries were under foreign colonization. Many Arabs came to the Kingdom fleeing persecution in their home countries. The Kingdom, since then, has continued to see an influx of refugees, who were never called or labeled as refugees. And many came to this land years before it was officially called Saudi Arabia. During and after the WWI, many fled the Ottoman and European conflicts. After that, many Palestinians who fled their land settled down in Saudi Arabia and it was even before the 1948 hostilities between the Arabs and Israelis. But, again they were not called refugees. They were called guests of the Kingdom and many of them were given the highest-paying jobs as workers in the oil industry, which was run then by the newly formed company Arabia American Oil Company (ARAMCO). During all these times, the Saudis did these without any media projection and never received any aid from any international body such as the United Nations or any other organization. Saudi Arabia did this as part of its duty toward its Arab brothers. The trend continues to this day and these people are considered guests and not refugees. During the internal conflicts in Yemen between the north and the southern part, millions of Yemenis came to Saudi Arabia. Many of them kept coming and going without any visa requirements. They worked and lived like Saudis in the Kingdom. Ironically during the 1950s, 60s and 70s many of the so-called Arab nationalists labeled the Gulf states and especially Saudi Arabia as less stable countries in the Arab world. They never appreciated or spoke about the millions who lived in the Kingdom and the other five Gulf states and enjoyed free health care and other benefits. But, as time passed, the influx of guests continued to the Gulf countries with Saudi Arabia accepting and hosting the majority. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Saudi Arabia hosted every Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti and furnished them with not only the best housing and accommodation, but also provided them financial aid during their stay until Kuwait was liberated. The world didn’t really take notice of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who fled Iraq before and after Desert Storm. And many more came after the end of the war because Saddam Hussein was attacking his own people in the southern part of Iraq. These hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were never called refugees. They were called guests and they were housed in newly built accommodation with hospitals and schools. Let us also not forget the Saudi efforts during the 10-year Lebanese civil war. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states did a lot, but without any fanfare or claim of who did this or did that. Not only the governments helped them, but also the Saudis and other Gulf citizens who stood by their neighbors. Then came the so-called Arab Spring. During the outbreak of unrest in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states took hundreds of thousands of people from these countries, mainly Syria and Yemen. More than half a million Syrians were given residency status and never called refugees. They work and live side by side with Saudis. Many brought their families and relatives to the Kingdom. It is true that some rules were put in place to scrutinize the newcomers. But, it was done only after terrorist attacks in the Kingdom — to check infiltration by terror groups like Daesh. Since the beginning of disturbances in Yemen and even after Operation Decisive Storm, Saudi Arabia did not stop taking care of the Yemenis. More than 600,000 Yemenis corrected their status and were given legal status. In other words, Saudi Arabia has been and still is a safe destination for those who need help and shelter. We have never called the Yemenis or the Syrians refugees. We call them guests. And on top of this, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have always borne the financial burden of hosting these guests. We and the world know that Saudi Arabia’s population is about 30 million and one third of them are non-Saudis. In other Gulf states, foreigners form a bigger percentage of their population. Saudi Arabia and Gulf states have done much more than what the foreign press has been reporting. This is something we normally don’t talk about because we respect the dignity of those fleeing their countries. The western press may not be aware of the Saudi and Gulf states’ efforts to help the refugees (guests) directly by hosting them or indirectly through the billions of dollars given to international organizations to help these hapless people. But, as for some Arab writers and columnists who try to distort facts and use the agony and misery of the refugees for their personal gains, I say, we have seen you do this before and we will expose your real intentions. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. They Are Our Guests, Not Refugees reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.