World News

Saudi Arabia defends aid effort towards Syria after criticism on refugees

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia on Friday defended its efforts to aid Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, following criticism that Gulf countries were not taking in any refugees since the crisis broke out four years ago.

None of the six states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar -- has signed the U.N. 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 Saudi Press Agency (SPA) cited an official source in the foreign ministry as saying that the kingdom found it “important to clarify these efforts with facts and numbers in response to media reports, which included false and misleading accusations about the kingdom”.

The source said Saudi Arabia had received nearly 2.5 million Syrians since the conflict erupted.

“(The kingdom) 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.”

“(The kingdom) 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.”

Saudi Arabia has also provided some $700 million in humanitarian aid to Syrians and had set up clinics in various refugee camps, the statement said.

The official source said more than 100,000 Syrian students were receiving free education in the kingdom. The country had provided humanitarian aid countries hosting Syrian refugees and through international relief organisations.

Writing by Yara Bayoumy, editing by Larry King