There are several rich "Muslim" states in Middle East: Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and so on. It seems that none of them want to receive Syrian, Iraqi, North African and other Muslim refugees.

Besides sectarian reasons, if any, why do Muslim refugees seem to prefer Europe over those rich Middle Eastern countries? Do those rich Middle Eastern states not want to take refugees?


6 Answers 6


The premise in your question, about Muslims preferring Europe over rich Middle-Eastern countries, is false. In fact, Syrian refugees prefer neighbouring Middle-Eastern countries over rich ones.

  • More than 6 million Syrians are internally displaced within their own country, accounting for about half (49%) of all displaced Syrians worldwide.
  • More than 5 million displaced Syrians live in neighboring countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
    • Turkey (3.4 million)
    • Lebanon (1 million)
    • Jordan (660,000)
    • Iraq (250,000)
    • Egypt (130,000)
  • About 1 million displaced Syrians have moved to Europe as asylum seekers or refugees since the conflict began
    • Germany (500,000)
    • Sweden (110,000)
    • Austria (50,000)
  • About 100,000 displaced Syrians live outside Europe, Africa and the Middle East, primarily in North America
    • Canada (52,000)
    • USA (21,000)

Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/29/where-displaced-syrians-have-resettled/

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 20:14
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    "Prefer" might not be the appropriate word here. It may well be the case they'd prefer to go someplace else than just neighboring countries, but that it may be much harder going to Europe, USA or even the rich Gulf countries. Unless you have an opinion poll among those in neighboring countries that they really don't prefer going anywhere else, you're just conjecturing/projecting. Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 21:16
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    And you might have possibly missed the the EU basically shut its doors to Syrian refugees (or rather Turkey did for them in exchange for billions of euros) as did the US (by itself). Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 21:27

Implicit in your question is the assumption that Muslims should have some kind of kindred sympathy toward their Muslim brethren in other countries. We have to dispense with that kind of thinking; it's not really true of any race, culture, or religion anywhere in the world.

Western Europeans dislike immigration from eastern European countries (in fact, EU immigration policy was a major driver behind the Brexit vote). Mexicans dislike refugees from central American countries. China dislikes North Korean refugees. It's pretty universal around the world that richer countries are wary of mass immigration from poorer countries. It doesn't really matter if there's a shared religious, ethnic, or cultural connection between them or not.

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    The warm welcome that millions of Ukrainian refugees received seems to go against this. Even before that, Eastern Europeans were generally much better received than Middle Eastern ones, with the obvious exception of gypsies. Also, Chinese and Koreans are about as kindred as British and Mohave.
    – user47770
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 18:24
  • +1 to user 47770, the war in Ukraine basically invalidated this answer. 8 million Ukrainians have been accepted without complaint. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 20:33

There were apparently no laws for asylum seekers in any Gulf countries until autumn 2018.

Qatar: Gulf’s First Refugee Asylum Law [...]

Qatar passed Law No. 11/2018 on Organizing Political Asylum on September 4, 2018, alongside two other laws regulating residency in the country. One abolished exit permits for most migrant workers, and the other allows people for the first time to apply for permanent residency. Both point to Qatar’s increased respect for international standards, but, as with the new asylum law, neither fully aligns with international human rights law.

And as the HRW article goes on to detail, there are quite a few caveats in the Qatar asylum law. And by Feb 2019, they had not accepted anyone under that law:

The government has so far failed to implement a law passed in September 2018 that sets out the standards for granting asylum and the rights and benefits for people granted asylum in the country. The government says that the infrastructure necessary to enforce the law has not yet been set up.

Outside of Gulf countries per se, Turkey (as you probably know) has taken in quite a few Syrian refugees, but their legal status is rather recently decreed and as with many other things in Turkey recently, the legal facade is sometimes not that relevant in practice.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits. [...]

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other [Turkish] provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access.

And regarding Lebanon,

There are approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon; however, 74 percent lack legal status. Authorities heightened calls for the return of refugees in 2018 and municipalities have forcibly evicted thousands of refugees.

And even those that do have legal status, what they seem to have is a "circulation permit" that entitles them for a 12-month stay in Lebanon while UNHCR is trying to resettle them in other countries.

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    In addition to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are home to about a million and two thirds of a million registered refugees, respectively. Most of the Gulf Nations but also Lebanon are not signatories to the UN refugee conventions according to a quick scan of the relevant Wikipedia articles.
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 12:43

There are several rich "Muslim" states in Middle East: Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and so on. It seems that none of them want to receive Syrian, Iraqi, North African and other Muslim refugees.

Muslim refugees mostly do not go to rich Middle Eastern countries because they are going to middle-income or poor ones. Lebanon is very nearby, and arguably has a Muslim majority.¹ There are nearly a million refugees in Lebanon.² The population of Lebanon in total is about ten times smaller than that of Germany, but they host similar numbers of refugees. Similarly, Jordan hosts 762,420 refugees.³ Others have mentioned Turkey. In other words, these Muslim states are taking in lots of Muslim refugees—there is no discrepancy.

There are a couple of reasons internal to the Gulf that mean that refugees tend not to go that way. The BBC points out that it is simply very difficult to reach the Gulf, compared to Europe.⁴ It is possible to attempt to reach Europe via Turkey, which borders Syria. On the other hand, the Gulf states are not really accessible by land. It is worth noting, however, that there are ½ a million Syrians in Saudi Arabia, and in some cases their residency permits have been extended. The root cause is presumably because of a political belief that foreigners should not be welcomed; I happen to view this as a moral failing but that’s a value judgment not asked for in the initial question, so I’ll leave it there.

I would also point out that the main source of refugees is Syria;⁵ we might then include Iraq. So a final set of reasons is simply that conflicts displacing people happen to be closer to Europe and the poorer Middle Eastern states than they are to the Gulf. Arguably that is because their governments do not have oil money to pay off their populations.

  1. No census has been taken since 1932 for political reasons. This answer does not rely on the idea that Lebanon has a Muslim majority, though I may end up stirring controversy in mentioning the matter.
  2. CIA World Factbook: Lebanon
  3. UNHCR on Jordan
  4. BBC News: “Migrant crisis: Why Syrians do not flee to Gulf states; Bloomberg: “Syria’s refugees feel more welcome in Europe than in the Gulf”
  5. UNHCR on displacement
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    Wikipedia says "As of September 2016, the number of Syrians in Saudi Arabia is estimated to be 500,000 and consists mainly of temporary foreign workers. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' representative for the Persian Gulf region, Syrian nationals are referred to as "Arab brothers and sisters in distress". Saudi Arabia does not consider Syrians as refugees." And "Total number of Syrians in Saudi Arabia was 100,000 before the start of Syrian Civil War". It would be interesting if more recent data existed on Saudi Arabia. Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 3:04
  • A good answer. I don't think your numbers include the large numbers of Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.
    – mikado
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 8:04

There is a vast difference in the immigrant and refugee acceptance in those two parts of the world. It has both cultural and economical grounds.

EU and friends (Turkey included, edit: to lesser extent, but still here: Lebanon and Jordan): most of the society's wealth comes from people working and creating products and services. The fact is recognized at both cultural and policy level for centuries. Most of those countries (except probably Turkey) are demographically unsustainable. OTOH, religion (of any kind) is generally seen more of a noise rather than a big deal. The numerous previous migration waves caused few problems and a lot of benefits. Result: new people are generally welcome. Well, there can always be problems here and there, esp. with the first-gen migrants coming in big numbers. The problems are either solved or lived with until the second generation takes over.

Rich middle-east countries: wealth is way less (no matter what rich people there say and do), a significant part comes from few sources (oil and likes) and is distributed from top to bottom. Societies have gross inequality and are kept stable at rather high (both social and monetary) price. People are seen as receivers (and not generators) of wealth at both cultural and policy level. Even minor religious differences are considered important - again both at cultural and policy level. People coming from outside are recognized as invaders and dealt accordingly.

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    From what you say of the imbalance of wealth, would you also say that the rich people might not want to dilute what the poor have (presuming any aid for immigrants would come from whatever is left over for the poor populace after the rich have taken what they can get away with) even further, so that revolution (leading to the deposement of the rich) can be avoided? Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 20:51
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    @Andrew Well, almost - except that it is the rich who get the dilution of the wealth. The (relatively) poor in this construct can't get much less - they already get almost exactly the minimum (both in terms of wealth and oppression) needed to not try so hard to change the status quo (some form of communism). Any change in this balance (be it positive or negative) affects the rich. And it is the rich who make decisions, so they try hard not to get in trouble.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 21:09
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    p.s. one can argue that the rich in EU and likes are also disproportionately involved in decision-making - and to some extent it is inevitably true. But they can only get more rich when more people are working for them. So they act accordingly.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 21:18
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    "The problems are either solved or lived with until the second generation takes over" -> they're far from solved. Muslim minority assimilation rates are awfully low even for third generation immigrants. Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 23:52
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    @JonathanReez assimilation is not the only way to solve a problem. And what, exactly, is "third generation immigrant" in Europe? Their grandfathers are mostly those that "moved in" when their place of birth was nominally France / UK / something like anyway. They moved overseas, but not abroad. Hardly an immigration.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 8:05

Since I cannot reply with a comment if we look at @Ahmed's data, we note that Egypt is farther from Syria than Kuwait (there are roads South of Baghdad towards the border).

On the other hand, the Gulf states are not really accessible by land.

Looking at the map, while I agree that going from Syria to Egypt is closer than going from Syria to Qatar (I take there are roads on the Saudi east coast), it is comparable to going from Syria to Germany... or even the Northern Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.

I do agree with @Fizz that we do need data on the current Syrian population in Saudi Arabia and other gulf states; we must consider that the sources used to get the data quoted by previous replies might just not be complete. I would expect/hope that Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, and Bahrain are at least financially supporting the neighboring countries in the Middle East and North Africa which are hosting the refugees.

Persian Gulf States


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