Saudi Arabia Keeps Out Syrian Refugees?

Is Saudi Arabia allowing thousands of air-conditioned tents to stand empty while keeping out Syrian refugees?

Published Nov 25, 2015


[green-label]NEWS:[/green-label]Half a million Syrians have been killed and at least 12 million Syrians have been forced out of their homes by armed conflict over the past five years, and half of that number are children. This displacement has created the largest refugee exodus since World War II, with unprecedented numbers of now nationless people asking other countries for shelter.   Variations of the above image are now circulating on social media, castigating Saudi Arabia for not putting refugees into a tent city that stands empty most of the year

Many countries have opened their doors to a limited number of refugees and immigrants, but Saudi Arabia is one country (although not the only country) that has declined to take them in.  According to Amnesty International:

Gulf countries including Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.

Other high income countries including Russia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea have also offered zero resettlement places.

Germany has pledged 35,000 places for Syrian refugees through its humanitarian admission programme and individual sponsorship; about 75 % of the EU total.

Germany and Sweden together have received 47% Syrian asylum applications in the EU between April 2011 and July 2015.

Excluding Germany and Sweden, the remaining 26 EU countries have pledged around 8,700 resettlement places, or around 0.2% of Syrian refugees in the main host countries.

For their part, Saudi Arabia says they have taken in thousands of Syrians, but as a September story from BBC points out, it has taken them in as visitors or temporary workers, not on refugee visas, and indeed, it is incredibly difficult for Syrians to obtain any type of visa for most Gulf states. Without a visa, they can only enter Algeria, Mauritania, Sudan, and Yemen.

Saudi Arabia's tent city, Mina, is best known as a stopover site during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. It is the world’s largest tent city, covering approximately 20 kilometers and holding more than 100,000 tents. Mina is packed during Hajj, with prices starting at $500 a tent, but it is almost totally deserted during the rest of the year.

However, the two issues are not necessarily connected.  As Mina is a traditional rest site during a holy pilgrimage, it is not likely that any refugees would be placed there, even if Saudi Arabia completely opened their borders to them.  It is also uncertain whether Syrians would prefer to enter Saudi Arabia on refugee visas, and if so, whether they would be comfortable sleeping in tents that are intended for pilgrims — even if they are air-conditioned ones.


Brooke Binkowski is a former editor for Snopes.