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UAE says over $1bn spent on Syrian refugees

The UAE government says that it is home to nearly a quarter of a million Syrian refugees who are treated as other expatriate groups
Rashid al-Mansuri, Consul General of the United Arab Emirates to Erbil, visits Syrian-Kurdish refugees as aid is distributed at a refugee camp in northern Iraq, on 4 January 2014 (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday it has spent "around $1.1 billion" helping Syrian refugees and on the fight against the Islamic State group.

The announcement follows criticism of the neighbouring rich Arab states for failing to take in Syrian refugees, as hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the conflict risk their lives to reach Europe.

Amnesty International reported that "from Asia to Europe, large wealthy countries have turned their backs on Syrian refugees. All six Gulf countries, Russia and Japan have not offered to resettle a single refugee".

But UAE officials hit back, highlighting the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees.

"UAE total humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees amounted to around $581.5 million," said State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, providing a breakdown of the oil-rich federation's aid to Syria since the conflict began in 2011.

It also "provided more than $420 million to fight the terrorism of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and its humanitarian burden, including internal displacement," Gargash said in a statement cited by WAM state news agency.

Daesh is the Arabic acronym for IS, which controls swathes of Syria and northern Iraq. The UAE is part of the US-led coalition waging an air campaign against the jihadists.

Some $167.8 million of UAE aid has gone on providing food for Syrian refugees, while $88.1 million went on providing shelters and non-food supplies, WAM said.

Other sums were channelled into providing health services, water and sewerage services, education and other fields, it added.

The figures showed that the UAE currently hosts 243,324 Syrian residents, including 101,364 who have arrived since the conflict began in 2011.

Gargash said the UAE has "allowed tens of thousands of Syrians whose residency permits or passports had expired, to regularise their status to be able to stay".

A government source previously told Gulf News that the UAE does not treat the Syrians in the country as refugees.

“We treat them as any other residents of the UAE - with the same rights,” the source said.

For those Syrians wishing to enter a Gulf state, their options are limited and costly.

While Syrians can officially apply for a tourist visa or a work permit for one of the wealthy Arab countries, the process is expensive.

The UAE has a population of more than nine million people, mostly foreigners.

By the end of August, more than four million Syrians had fled their war-torn country.

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