Saudi Arabia has defended its efforts to aid Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, following criticism that Gulf countries have not been taking in enough refugees since the crisis broke out there more than four years ago.
The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Friday cited an official source in the foreign ministry as saying the kingdom wanted to make clear its role in helping refugee in light of charges it was doing nothing.
The official said it was “important to clarify these efforts with facts and numbers in response to media reports, which included false and misleading accusations about the kingdom”.
None of the six states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, has signed the UN convention on refugees, which has governed international law on asylum since World War Two.
But Gulf states say they have taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrians since the civil war there began in 2011, just not as refugees.
The source said Saudi Arabia had received nearly 2.5 million Syrians since the conflict erupted.
“[Saudi Arabia] was keen to not deal with them as refugees, or to put them in refugee camps, to preserve their dignity and safety, and gave them complete freedom of movement.”
“[Saudi Arabia] gave whoever chose to stay in the kingdom, which are in the hundreds of thousands, proper residency … with all the rights that are included like free health care and engaging in the workforce and education.”
The kingdom has also provided about $700m in humanitarian aid to Syrians and had set up clinics in various refugee camps, the statement by the SPA said.
The official source said more than 100,000 Syrian students were receiving free education in the kingdom.
The country has also provided humanitarian aid to countries hosting Syrian refugees and through international relief organisations.