UN lauds KSA humanitarian efforts toward Syrian and Iraqi refugees

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KEY ROLE: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif addresses the High-level Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the United Nations.
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Stéphane Dujarric
Updated 24 September 2016

UN lauds KSA humanitarian efforts toward Syrian and Iraqi refugees

NEW YORK: The UN is well aware of Saudi Arabia’s generosity in extending humanitarian assistance to Iraqi and Syrian refugees, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
Asked how he assesses the Saudi role with regard to refugees, he said every country has a role to play both in financial support and in terms of taking in refugees. “But we’re very much aware and appreciative of the financial support that the humanitarian operation has received from Saudi Arabia in the past.”
Asked if the UN accepts the fact that Saudi Arabia is hosting 2.5 million refugees, Dujarric replied: “There are refugees that are registered, which UNHCR keeps track of. We’re seeing a lot of refugees whether in Lebanon or in Jordan, who are not only in camps but are being hosted by communities.”
He added that it is clear that every country in the region that has the means to assist and to help refugees — both in terms of finances and taking them in — needs to act, fulfilling its global responsibilities.

How do you assess the success of the refugee summit? Some observers say there is no modality for implementation. What do you think?

Well I think on our part, this summit was a very important step. It was the first time that countries came together to discuss the mass movement of refugees and migrants to work toward an agreement concerning shared responsibility. We have never seen so many people on the move from either conflict or looking for a better life more than what we have today. This issue is one that needs to be resolved jointly with the countries where the people come from, where they transit, and where they’re going to. And so the Secretary-General, I think, was very pleased by the turnout, and we have adopted a New York declaration, which we think is a very important first step.

What about the lack of modality? What if this declaration is not implemented — case in point, the Syrian refugees?

Well, the Syrian refugees — in fact if you look at where people are fleeing war, what basically has to happen is we have to solve these conflicts. But things can be dealt with at different levels at the same time. On one hand, we need to ensure that we have the resources to take care of refugees, that refugees’ rights are respected, while at the same time working a political track to solve the actual problem which is forcing people to flee. It’s clear that people would rather stay home; I think we can’t underestimate their courage and the will that it takes to actually leave your home and put yourself and your family on a boat and risk life and limb for a better life. Right now we see the majority, the vast majority, about 80 percent of refugees living in either middle-income or low-income countries. You have countries like Kenya, like Lebanon, like Jordan, like Turkey, who are bearing a huge part of that responsibility. And that responsibility needs to be shared, both in terms of numbers of refugees being resettled, and in terms of financial resources to help the refugees.

Are the Syrian refugees what triggered this New York declaration or has this been in the works even before?

I think the idea of having a summit meeting on mass movement of people was triggered by the images that we’ve seen over the last year in the Mediterranean, whether it’s in Greece, whether it’s in Italy, and the lives lost at sea. Now we have to remember that these refugees that are trying to make it to Europe are often Syrians, but they also come from Libya, they come from Afghanistan, they come from Iraq, Pakistan. They’re also economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the Middle East — so it’s a whole mix of people.

Does the UN accept the fact that Saudi Arabia is hosting 2.5 million refugees? Some experts are saying these people are not counted because they are not staying in camps. Is this true?

Well, I think you know there are refugees that are registered, which UNHCR keeps track of. We’re seeing a lot of refugees whether it’s in Lebanon or in Jordan that are not only in camps but are being hosted by communities. Uh, I’m not specifically aware of the Saudi case, but it’s clear that every country in the region that has the means to assist and to help refugees — both in terms of finances and in terms of taking them in — need to act on their global responsibilities.

Do you think that the world community realizes that Saudi Arabia is the third largest donor country in the world for refugees and humanitarian assistance?

I think the Secretary-General is very much aware of the generosity of Saudi-Arabia and other Gulf countries toward the humanitarian assistance that we have seen for Iraqi or Syrian refugees, and also general assistance, humanitarian assistance, for, in the region.

How do you assess the role that Saudi Arabia plays with regard to refugees and humanitarian assistance?

I think we’re very much aware of Saudi Arabia’s generosity in that regard. But as I said, I think every country has a role to play both in financial support and in terms of taking in refugees. But we’re very much aware and appreciative of the financial support that the humanitarian operation has received from Saudi Arabia in the past.

There was a major Security Council meeting on the level of foreign ministers on Wednesday concerning Syria, and there were trading accusations between Russia and the United States, but then nothing happened in the end, other than they wish that the cease-fire agreement would hold up?

You know the Secretary-General was very clear in his condemnation of the inaction of the Security Council on this issue, and the lack of unity on the council. This has been year after year; the Secretary-General has gone to the council and underscored the tragedy of the Syrian situation. He is continuing through his special envoy to try to push for political settlement, but it’s important that all those countries who are either directly involved or who have the influence, use that influence in a positive way. We are trying and keep trying to bring humanitarian aid, we’re pushing the political track, but as you know the Secretary-General is not one who can impose a solution. There is no military solution, but all that we can do and we’re trying to is on one hand make sure the humanitarian support is there, and on the other hand keeping the diplomatic track alive.

The UN envoy to Syria said he wants all political parties to be involved in the negotiations. Now based on the latest American-Russian agreement, is the working premise now is that Assad has to be part of the transition?

Well there is, you know, the transition part is being discussed, who will be president, who will lead the country, but that, is for the Syrian people to decide.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states were adamant in the beginning that, you know, Assad is not even part of the transition.

I think, you know, to think that the future of a country is beholden to just one man is not helping this conflict. I think what all the parties involved, who were around the table, need to focus on one thing and one thing only: that is the Syrian people. Not just the fate of one person.

Did the United Nations figure out who actually hit the humanitarian convoy that was heading to Aleppo?

No — we don’t have the means to investigate these things. The Secretary-General has said today that he is looking at options to call for an international investigation. What is clear is that this apparent deliberate attack could be tantamount to a war crime.

Do you think the situation in Syria can be salvaged, or it’s too late?

I think we have no choice. There is no Plan B. but I think we will keep trying and we will keep trying very hard to salvage the situation.

OK, what about Yemen? Where do you see the peace process in Yemen?

Well there is, there are new proposals being discussed, through the special envoy who’s going around to the parties. Again, in Yemen, we’re seeing conflict that has lasted too long, that’s created too much suffering for the Yemeni people. But again, all the parties need to get around the table and realize that there is not going to be a military solution. And we’re working hard on that line.

Do you think that there’s a possibility that the war in Yemen will drag on, like the war in Syria?

We can only hope that it doesn’t. And we will continue to work on the diplomatic front so that it doesn’t continue, but I think again in Yemen, as in Syria, there are many countries in the region and beyond who have influence, they need to use that influence positively on the parties and ensure that they’ll get around the table. The Secretary-General met today with the Iranian president, with the Russians, earlier with the Saudis, and his message is the same to all.

There has been a lot of speculation that there is some kind of a political plan is in the oven, is that true?

Well, I mean there is a proposal that is being discussed, obviously. We’ve had these negotiations going for quite some time; we’ll see what these things yield.

None of it is known yet?

No, proposals that are being discussed. Aziz, I think we’re going to have to cut this here.

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.