Middle East Studies

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Sa‘udi Policies towards Migrants and Refugees

A Sacred Duty

Joseph A. Kéchichian is the author of Faysal: Saudi Arabia’s King for All Seasons (2008), Succession in Saudi Arabia (2001), Legal and Political Reforms in Saudi Arabia (2013), and ’Iffat al Thunayan: An Arabian Queen (2015).

Fahad Alsharif is the author of comparative case studies of migrant communities in Jeddah (2017 and 2018), and Empowering Women: Educational Programs and Reforms in the New Diversified Saudi Arabian Economy (2019).

Published in conjunction with the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS)

A Sacred Duty sets out the Kingdom’s policy toward the global issue of migrants and refugees, with special emphasis directed toward Muslim societies. Discussion focuses on refugee communities currently living in Sa‘udi Arabia, some of which migrated due to war, forced displacement, environmental catastrophe, and economic hardship. Some migrants have come from bordering countries such as Iraq and Yemen; others reached the Arabian Peninsula from Africa and Asia. All have been welcomed and cared for, though settlement conditions, repatriation and deportation circumstances were not always ideal.

Inevitably, and mirroring experience elsewhere in the world, there are undeniable gulfs between policies and practices. Policy shortcomings are measured against the substantive assistance planks that Riyadh espouses, including providing financial aid to refugees in third countries, over and above United Nations’ appeals. These acts are done without prejudice and mostly without publicity. Aid to the needy is justified by religious obligations, as well as on humanitarian grounds.

Sa‘udi Arabia’s aid contributions have generally been either overlooked or dismissed, and the religious foundations of their commitment to displaced populations has been negatively contrasted against human-rights based commitments espoused by Western states and institutions. Sa‘udi Policies towards Migrants and Refugees addresses these concerns, filling a key gap in the literature on a vital policy topic. The book refutes notions that the country discourages open research on sensitive topics and further dispels the prejudiced idea of a society closed to any kind of external influence. Sa‘udi Arabia’s granting of hospitality to refugees reinforces historic, tribal and universal norms in contrast to misplaced notions of hostility toward Western standards, which in the case of migrants and refugees has seen the application of confused and alarming standards of behavior by a plethora of Western states.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-78976-144-3
Hardback Price: £60.00 / $75.00
Release Date: October 2021
Page Extent / Format: 384 pp. 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: Yes



List of Charts, Figures, Maps and Tables

A Note on Transliteration



Conflicts, Wars and Refugees

The Experiences and Policies of Sa'udi Arabia


Structure of the Book


Chapter 1—A Theoretical Perspective


A Glance at International Migration

Theories of International Migration

Migration Theories: A Classification

Analysis of Migration Theories

Neo-classical Theory

The New Economics of Labor Migration (NELM)

Dual Labor Market Theory

Network Theory

Migration System Theory

Institutional Theory

Cumulative Causation Theory

The 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocols

International Migration and Globalization



Chapter 2—Sa'udi Policies Towards Refugees


Critics of Sa'udi Migration Initiatives

Discrimination and Human Rights Violations

Gender Discrimination in Sa'udi Arabia's Nationality Law

Stateless Communities in Sa'udi Arabia

The Bidun

The Rohingya

The Palestinians

Migration Regulations



Chapter 3—Hijrah, Zakat, and Refugees: Religious Obligations


Hijrah and Asylum

Refugee Convention and Shari'ah Law

Alternatives to the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol

Religious Norms and Obligations

The Case of Rashid 'Ali al-Kilani

Muslim Brotherhood Refugees

Burmese Refugees in Sa'udi Arabia

Iraqi Refugees at Rafhah Camp

Syrian Refugees

Conclusion: Obligation as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques


Chapter 4—The Concept of Zakat and Foreign Aid: From Development to Humanitarian Assistance


Zakat and Foreign Aid

Sa'udi Foreign Aid: Humanitarian and Economic Assistance

Sa'udi Foreign Aid Before and After 1973

Sa'udi Fund for Development

King Salman Center for Humanitarian Relief and Works

Humanitarian Assistance to Yemen

Conclusion: Aid as Religious Obligation


Chapter 5—Pilgrimage and Migration Dilemmas: African Migrants in Sa'udi Arabia


Annual Pilgrimage Dilemmas

An Examination of the Methodology and Data Analysis

The Migration Processes


Overstaying a 'Umrah or Hajj Visa

Breaking a Work Contract

Undocumented 'Migrants' Born in Jiddah

African Migrants in Sa'udi Arabia

Issues Related to Working Conditions

Legal Issues Facing Undocumented Laborers in Sa'udi Arabia

Plans for the Future

Amnesty Initiatives

Nitaqat and Deportation Laws

Conclusion: Pilgrimage Dilemmas


Chapter 6—The Kingdom and Yemen: How Neighbors Became Refugees


Contemporary Sa'udi–Yemeni ties

The Free-Flow of Migrants

Yemeni Workers in Sa'udi Arabia

Undocumented Yemeni Entries and Smuggling Operations

Riyadh's Humanitarian Assistance

Sa'udi Amnesty Policies vis-à-vis the Yemen

Consequences of the Huthi Takeover (2015–2018)



Chapter 7—Syrian Refugees in Sa'udi Arabia: Integration Rather than Confinement

The Making of a Catastrophe: Millions of New Refugees

The 2011 Uprisings

Controversies Over Casualties

Demographic Transformations in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Syrian Refugees in Iraq

Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Impact of Regional Refugees on Sa'udi Arabia

GCC States and Syrian Refugees

Integration of Syrians within the Kingdom



Chapter 8—Conclusion



  1. Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (1981)
  2. African Charter on Human and Peoples' Right (1981)
  3. Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (1990)
  4. Arab Charter on Human Rights (1994)
  5. Gender Discrimination in Sa'udi Arabia's Nationality Law
  6. Royal Decree Number 56660, issued on 13/11/1436 [26 September 2015]
  7. Combatting Trafficking in Persons in Accordance with the Principles of Islamic Law [Excerpts]





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