ABU DHABI // The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has praised the UAE’s pledge to take in 15,000 Syrian refugees, calling it an example for other countries to follow.
“It is something I was very happy to hear in New York,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner who was in Abu Dhabi on Saturday for the Sir Bani Yas Forum, at which the Middle East’s greatest issues are discussed.
“We think it is a great decision and we hope that it will be followed by others, and also that the Emirates will continue if it is successful in this effort.”
Mr Grandi said that he recently met officials to discuss the logistics of the programme, which will be run over five years and was announced at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in September.
“It’s a new operation for this region and it’s very interesting,” he said. “There will be selection criteria, logistical aspects to be figured out, registration – many technical aspects. It takes time.”
When the crisis began in Syria, the UAE was already home to 115,000 Syrians.
Since then more than 123,000 Syrians have moved to the Emirates, Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, told the Leaders’ Summit at the UN in New York.
Mr Grandi warned that as the clock ticks, conditions in Syria are getting worse. “We are very far from the political solution yet and this is the key to everything else.
“All those who are fighting and their supporters are still pursuing a military solution and I think, almost six years in, by now people should have understood that there will be no military solution in that country.”
The recent bombings of hospitals in Aleppo and air strikes on civilians should be an urgent wake-up call for politicians to push for lasting ceasefire and peace agreements, Mr Grandi said.
“It is indescribable what is happening there. We all saw the images of hospitals being bombed and civilians being targeted and children being killed, being terrified.
“How can political leaders not be convinced by that and not come to the necessary compromises that are compulsory in any peace agreement?”
Mr Grandi disputed criticism from the West that countries in the GCC were not doing enough to share global responsibility of the Syrian refugee crisis.
“There is a very large current of generosity in this region that is not well known,” he said. “It operates in different ways from western generosity.”
Mr Grandi said much of the humanitarian aid from this region was channelled “in very substantive terms” through foundations, charities and people.
“There is no recipe for how aid should be structured and I think that we have learnt over the years to adapt to the manner to which aid is administered in this region with very good results.”
Since the start of the conflict in 2011, more than 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Syria while about 4.8 million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, the UN Refugee Agency said.
“This is also a difference from other parts of the world,” Mr Grandi said of the large Syrian population. “Their remittances have been a very important part of the support that went back to their people – just like the Palestinians for a long time and just like other people from poorer countries that come here to work.
“So I think this is something that you cannot compare. Not all of the world is the same.”