Saudi Arabia to send Syrians an additional $100 million of humanitarian aid

Boys carry relief supplies to their families who fled fighting in the southern city of Aden, in Taiz, Yemen. Saudi Arabia said Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (AP /Abdulnasser Alseddik, File)
Updated 26 April 2018

Saudi Arabia to send Syrians an additional $100 million of humanitarian aid

  • Total relief provided by the Kingdom since the war began now stands at about $1billion
  • Latest package announced by Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir at conference in Brussels

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia will provide an additional $100 million of humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering of the people of Syria, through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.

The announcement of the latest aid package was made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir on April 25 at an international conference on the future of Syria and the region, held in the Belgian capital Brussels. He pointed out that the meeting comes after the suspected chemical attack in the city of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, which killed dozens of civilians, including women and children.

“The world is facing a regime allied with terrorist militias who believe that spreading atrocities and committing crimes will bring victory to it, and that war crimes are bearing fruit,” said Al-Jubeir. “In addition to bombing civilians with explosive barrels, the policies of starvation and siege, ethnic and sectarian cleansing, and the demographic change of Syrian cities and towns, its use of chemical weapons have shocked the entire world.”

He said that the only acceptable solution to the Syrian crisis is a peaceful political resolution, and that Saudi Arabia has been working to achieve this since the crisis began, while also working with others to end the continuing human tragedy in the war-torn country.

The Kingdom has played a role in unifying the ranks of the Syrian opposition and encouraging them to speak with one voice, he added. After the Riyadh 1 Conference in 2015, Saudi Arabia hosted the Riyadh 2 conference for the Syrian opposition in November 2017, which succeeded in unifying the factions and establishing a negotiating body to take part in the rounds of talks held since then, earning praise from the United Nations.

The foreign minister also reiterated his country’s support for the efforts of the UN secretary-general’s envoy, Stephan de Mistura, to resume negotiations between all sides of the conflict.

“The Kingdom hopes that the agreements endorsed by the international resolutions on the ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid to its beneficiaries will be implemented throughout Syria, regardless of their ethnic, religious, sectarian or political affiliations, and calls for the speedy release of detainees and abductees and clarifying the situation of those absent,” said Al-Jubeir. “It also renews its demand to punish individuals and institutions for war crimes and to prevent their impunity.”

He added that the worsening humanitarian crisis affecting refugees inside and outside of Syria should add to the urgency of finding a political solution and resuming the negotiating process as soon as possible.

Since the war began, the Kingdom has taken in about two and a half million Syrians and treats them like its own citizens, Al-Jubeir said, providing them with free health care, work and education. Saudi universities and schools have more than 140,000 Syrian students. He added that Saudi Arabia is also supporting and helping to care for of millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, in coordination with the governments of those countries. The humanitarian assistance provided so far totals about $1 billion.

Lost in translation? Not for Muslim Hajj pilgrims

Updated 19 August 2018

Lost in translation? Not for Muslim Hajj pilgrims

  • In all, 80 percent of pilgrims to the western Saudi city of Makkah are non-Arabic speakers
  • Many of the signs directing pilgrims are translated into English, Urdu and in some cases, French

MAKKAH, Saudi Arabia: Lost in translation? Not in Makkah, thanks to a dedicated squad of interpreters gearing up to help two million Muslims speaking dozens of languages at the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The six-day Hajj, which starts on Sunday, is one of the five pillars of Islam, an act all Muslims must perform at least once if they have the means to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Most of the world’s Muslims do not speak Arabic — Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim community by population, while tens of millions of the faithful are native speakers of Urdu.
In all, 80 percent of pilgrims to the western Saudi city of Makkah are non-Arabic speakers, according to Mazen Al-Saadi of the official Hajj translation bureau.
His team provides 24/7 interpretation services in English, French, Farsi, Malay, Hausa, Turkish, Chinese and Urdu — the most widely spoken language among Hajj pilgrims.
For Samir Varatchia, who made the trip to Makkah from France’s Indian Ocean island of Reunion, the men in grey vests — the uniform of the official Hajj translation team — are a welcome sight.
“I really don’t know much Arabic,” Varatchia told AFP.
“The French translation will help us understand things, including the sermons.”
Tunisian interpreter Abdulmumen Al-Saket is happy to help, fielding frequent requests for his phone number.
“We try to help as much as we can, even with reading the maps,” he said.
“Some ask for our personal phone numbers, to call us later if they need help,” he added.
Pilgrims come to Makkah from across the world, including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Many speak only Urdu, Saadi said.
Many of the signs directing pilgrims are translated into English, Urdu and in some cases, French.
Makkah’s Grand Mosque provides a range of translation and interpreting services to pilgrims.
Specialist departments deal with sermons and rulings, and a hotline is available in dozens of languages to answer religious questions.
But for practical matters, Saadi’s 80-strong team is indispensible.
The department has been in place for four years, he said, and is being continuously expanded to deal with rising demand.
“Most (pilgrims) don’t speak Arabic and are afraid to ask in the event of an accident,” Sanaullah Ghuri, an Indian translator, told AFP in Arabic.
A deadly stampede in 2015 left more than 2,000 pilgrims dead in Mina, the Makkah neighborhood where the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual takes place during Hajj.
Many pilgrims were unable to understand security forces’ instructions, delivered in Arabic.
The Hajj presents Saudi authorities with vast logistical challenges.
Islam is currently the world’s fastest-growing religion, according to the Pew Research Center, which says the number of Muslims in the world is expected to rise from 1.8 billion in 2015 to three billion in 2060.
The Hajj sees millions of pilgrims visit the country, all clad in white, to perform rituals in Makkah’s Grand Mosque and on the Mount Arafat plain east of Makkah.
It ends with Eid Al-Adha, a three-day feast which starts with the “stoning of the devil.”
Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most restrictive countries, has recently embarked on an ambitious reform program spearheaded by the powerful young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
That has included pumping millions of dollars into high-tech initiatives.
Providing services for two million pilgrims is no small feat, and authorities are pushing a “smart Hajj” initiative this year to meet the rising demand.
That includes apps providing information on emergency medical services and geographic guides to Makkah and Mina, the two cities home to Islam’s holiest sites.
One app will also translate Hajj sermons into five languages.
But the Indian translator, Ghuri, said the presence of real-life interpreters made the experience of Hajj easier for pilgrims.
“When they see someone speaking their language, they feel more comfortable seeking help,” he said.