Refugees, and Saudi Arabia

There is a circulating eMail which points to a page on You can find that page here. The page claims that Saudi Arabia has 100,000 air-conditioned tents and has taken in zero refugees. This is correct.

The page then claims Saudi Arabia should use those tents for refugees. This is nonsense. The tents are used during Hajj, which as I understand it, is for a few weeks every year. A pilgrimage to Mecca is a one-time requirement of any Muslim who can do it once in their lifetime. The numbers involved are very large.

I’ll bet the tents aren’t air-conditioned twelve months of the year, just during Hajj.

If refugees were allowed to fill these tents, when Hajj comes around, where will they be displaced to? And, after months of refugees living there, will the tents be as neat as after a few days’ use by pilgrims?

For a comparison, the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto covers some 192 acres and is in full use for about two weeks of every year. By the logic above, should we put refugees there? I think not. There is considerable planning before the exhibition opens; apparently it pulls about $80 million into Ontario each year. We need that space.

Finally, it is useful to understand Saudi Arabia’s attitude to foreign workers. They are some 31% of the population. They are not allowed to become citizens. Fewer than 3% stay six years. They do jobs the Saudis can’t or don’t want to do. It started with oil technicians; added workers, mostly male; then women mostly in service industries, as maids, for example.

Here you will find the above information, and the following fascinating quote:

The results of the 2004┬ácensus indicates that only about 15┬áper cent of foreign workers are in the skilled category, with the remainder mostly working in agriculture, cleaning and domestic service. Country of origin has been an important factor in determining foreign workers’ occupational roles in Saudi Arabia. Saudi businesses have traditionally adopted an ethnically defined hierarchical organisation. For example, a recent academic study of a Danish manufacturing company’s Saudi subsidiary noted that a manager had to be European, a supervisor had to be Egyptian, Filipino employees often had technical roles, and Indians, the lowest in the hierarchy, worked in production. Foreign workers’ presence in Saudi Arabia tends to be transitory: only 3% remain in the country for more than six years.

My point here is that the Saudis have a challenge controlling their own country. Therefore foreign workers are kept in constant turnover. Thus they do not form communities, and cannot challenge the status quo.

Refugees have no place in the Saudi plan. Don’t expect them to take any.

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