Saudi Arabia’s tent city, Mina, with its well-arranged rows of white tents spread over 20 square kilometers, represents a unique and remarkable blend of traditional and modern housing techniques in the arid country. Since 2015, Riyadh has come under criticisms for failing to do enough to deal with the humanitarian crisis in nearby Syria and Yemen. Western commentators have particularly called for displaced refugees to be housed in Saudi Arabia’s tent city.
There are about 100,000 tents in Mina, which can reportedly host up to three million people. The air conditioned tents are reportedly fire-proof and come with bathroom and kitchen facilities.
Critics have argued that Saudi Arabia’s tent city, which is about 2,150 miles from Syria, should be opened up to refugees to potentially cut down on the number of people making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. This argument is made on the backdrop of talks that Saudi Arabia needs to do more to help refugees from nearby warring countries.
Saudi Arabia’s tent city plays a key role in the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which is described as the largest annual gathering of people in the world.
The tent city of Mina, which is just five kilometers from Mecca, provides temporary accommodation to millions of people who travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj yearly. Accommodation in these tents reportedly costs between $500 and $3,500, according to Al Jazeera. The tent city is believed to have been partly inspired by safety concerns following a fire outbreak in pilgrim camps in Mina that claimed the lives of hundreds of people.
Saudi Arabia’s tent city was created about a decade ago to provide a central housing station for pilgrims. Buildings in Mina were completely demolished to make way for the tent city. For hundreds of years before it was created, pilgrims stayed with residents of Mina and camped within the city. The tent city is reportedly empty for about 50 weeks every year.
While Saudi authorities could easily open up the tents to refugees, some local pundits have argued that this is not what refugees want, and the kingdom has apparently opted not to treat them as refugees.
Although the Saudi government claims to be hosting millions of displaced refugees from Syria and Yemen, the nation’s foreign ministry has stated that the kingdom is not interested in publicizing its efforts to help refugees.
According to Arabic international newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, thousands of Syrians who have fled to Saudi Arabia have been granted a residential permit as well as free healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. The ministry added that the Saudi government has invested over $700 million to deal with the humanitarian fallout of the wars in Syria and Yemen.
In an op-ed for Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi offered another possible explanation for why Saudi Arabia’s tent city is not being open to refugees.
“Syrians don’t want to go to Saudi Arabia as refugees. Saudi Arabia or other Gulf countries’ building of refugee camps is of no use because Syrians have had enough of living in camps and they want to have a proper life. And as long as we don’t give them their country back, they will continue to travel in search of a country where they can build a future, and Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries cannot provide them with this option.”
Khashoggi goes on to highlight other reasons why many refugees from Syria and Yemen choose to travel to Europe instead of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. According to him, Gulf nations are highly unlikely to grant citizenship status to refugees. Also, finding jobs in Gulf countries may be difficult as they are already overpopulated with foreign workers.
Should Saudi Arabia’s tent city be opened to refugees from Syria and Yemen? Let us know what you think below.
[Featured Image by Hassan Ammar/AP Images]