Munich is some 1,600 miles from Syria, and far removed from the political and religious disputes that have fueled the 4-year-old civil war there. But in recent days, thousands of Syrian refugees have arrived there by train, to be greeted with applause, welcoming signs, tea and food.

Germans are under no special obligation to help Syrians, but the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to take some 800,000 of them – inspiring some to proclaim the chancellor, “Mama Merkel, Mother of Outcasts.” Merkel said, “The fundamental right to asylum does not have a limitation.”

It’s an easy sentiment to preach but a hard one to live. Some nations, like Germany, have gone to heroic lengths to accommodate this tragic exodus, which includes some 4 million souls. And some nations have not.

MAKING EXCUSES

Conspicuous among them are some of Syria’s wealthiest neighbors. “The six Gulf countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain – have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees,” notes Amnesty International.

These nations are not only physically close but have a great deal in common with Syria, particularly in language, religion, culture. They feel enough of a connection that some of their governments have provided money and weapons to groups fighting to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad. But while Germans (and others) are making room for the migrants, the Gulf states are making excuses.

They point to the $1 billion contributed by their citizens and charitable organizations to help these Arab brethren. That’s significant, but it’s only a quarter of humanitarian aid furnished by the United States, the biggest donor.

The United States has been faulted for agreeing to admit so few refugees from the Syrian conflict (1,600 so far), but that’s better than the Gulf nations, which ought to feel a vastly greater responsibility, given their proximity and their wealth. The average income in Qatar is $143,000; in Saudi Arabia, it’s $52,000.

DOUBLE STANDARDS

Yet these countries have evaded a burden taken on by poorer nations like Lebanon, which has 1.2 million Syrian refugees, and Jordan, which has 630,000. The Gulf countries have grounds to be wary of a large influx that could upset existing political balances. But the same could be said of Iraq, Egypt and Turkey, which have stepped up anyway.

Another rationalization is that the Gulf states have native populations that are greatly outnumbered by foreigners. In the UAE, 88 percent of residents come from elsewhere, mostly to work. In Kuwait, the figure is 70 percent. But if they can take in hordes of Indians and Filipinos to clean houses and bus tables, they should be able to absorb Syrians, who are also capable of working. The UAE has 8 million foreigners but can’t take a few thousand Syrians?

Even people in the Gulf nations are embarrassed by their failure. A newspaper columnist in Kuwait lamented, “We’re seeing a silence that’s scandalous.” Cartoonists have caustically ridiculed the inaction. The Washington Post reports, “The Arabic hashtag #Welcoming_Syria’s_refugees_is_a_Gulf_duty was tweeted more than 33,000 times.”

IMAGINATIVE SOLUTIONS

Recently Egyptian telecom magnate Naguib Sawiris offered to buy an island from Greece or Italy to serve as a haven for hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants. California real estate tycoon Jason Buzi had earlier proposed founding a new nation for such exiles, so “at least they’d have a place to live in safety and be allowed to live and work like everybody else.”

Some of them are lucky enough to have found a place where they can find safety and sustenance. Some of them are not. The United States, it’s fair to say, can do a lot more than it has to shelter these unfortunate souls. But the greater obligation falls on those of Syria’s neighbors that have closed their doors.

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