Panel 4I

Migration in the Middle East:  Perspectives from Saudi Arabia

9: 00 – 11.00
Chair: Joseph Kéchichian, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies

Syrian Refugees in Saudi Arabia:  Integration Rather than Confinement

Joseph Kéchichian, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies

Blatant accusations that all Arab Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, were loathe to accept Syrian refugees filled most media sources for the better part of the past five years.  Why were Syrians moving West, some wondered, when they could move to the Gulf region? Poorly informed reportage asserted that beyond a token presence, Saudi Arabia refused to take Syrian refugees and that, at the very most, disbursed funds to host governments like Lebanon and Jordan, to alleviate some of the misery.  Most praised Germany for offering to accept 800,000 refugees and while Berlin deserved heaps of praise for its humanitarian efforts, what were the facts regarding the Kingdom? In 2015, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a formal statement, which revealed that the Kingdom received on its soil 2.5 million Syrians since early 2011, without labeling any of them “refugees.”  Instead of creating dedicated camps, Riyadh regularized their papers, which transformed them into “legal residents,” a status that allowed them to move about the country or travel to other destinations as they wished.  At the end of 2015, at least half a million were still in the country, where free medical care and education were available, along with opportunities for those who preferred to thrive in the business world. The purpose of this paper is threefold:  (1) to describe Riyadh’s policies vis-à-vis Syrian nationals who moved to Saudi Arabia; (2) to evaluate accusations that the conservative Arab Gulf country refused to alleviate the humanitarian crisis towards Syrian (as well as Yemeni and other asylum-seekers); and (3), analyze Riyadh’s integration rather than confinement policies.

Hijra à la française:  Online and Offline Discourses of Muslim French Religious Expatriates in Saudi Arabia

Faisal Abualhassan, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies

Both anglophone and French academia have produced significant bodies of literature on the social evolution of Frenchmen and women descended from Muslim North African immigrants in France. Few studies on the religiously motivated emigration (or hijra) of such individuals to Muslim-majority countries, however, exist; despite the connected phenomenon of online subspaces offering aid, information, and services to those who wish to emigrate. Continuing in the tradition of French sociologists of the internet, this paper will explore hijra from France to Saudi Arabia outside of its religious and political interpretations, focusing on its relation to sociological and socioeconomic understandings.  An effort will be made to explore four Facebook pages and one Facebook group dedicated to aiding and encouraging Muslim Frenchmen and women to emigrate, or undertake hijra, to Saudi Arabia; as well as interview four such emigrants, seeking to better understand: 1) how they organise the diversity of activities offered by the internet; 2) their ties to French citizenship; 3) as well as their personal trajectories offline. Building on earlier work that included ten case-studies, this paper will analyse the contents of the aforementioned sources to more closely look at how they organise themselves socially and economically inside the Kingdom, specifically in terms of the transnational element to their expatriation which spans Europe, North Africa and the Gulf. Of equal interest to this paper will be their economic and employment patterns and networks, as well as their rapports to French citizenship, North African Arab ancestries, and Islam, in manoeuvring and creating a space for themselves in the 21st-century cosmopolitan Saudi cities of Riyadh and Jeddah.

City of Dreams, Disappointment and Optimisms:  The Case of Nine African Undocumented Migrants Communities in the City of Jeddah

Fahad L. Alghalib Alsharif, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies

Since the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom in general and the city of Jeddah in particular, experienced a massive flow of undocumented migrants. This phenomenon is particularly interesting because it involves migrants from different continents and countries, offering the opportunity for a cross-sectional analysis of specific communities. Using qualitative analysis, this research accessed several of the undocumented migrant communities in Jeddah through face-to-face interviews, which shed light on personal narratives about “undocumented” lives. This study will analyze nine African undocumented migrant communities in Jeddah: Ethiopians, Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese, Chadians, Nigerians, Burkinabe, Ghanaians, and Cameroonians. The following major question will be tackled in detail:  what are the major consequences (social, economic, and security) of the presence of many illegal foreign nationals working and residing in Saudi Arabia? Several sub-questions will be addressed as well, including: (1) Who are the undocumented migrants in the city of Jeddah, how did they arrive and why did they choose Jeddah in particular?; (2) Is there a relationship between the hajj and umrah and the phenomena of undocumented migrants?; (3) What kind of life do the undocumented migrants have, how do they overcome issues related to shelter, work, the possibility of arrest and deportation?; (4) Do they have accompanying children and how are their medical and education needs met?; (5) What types of covert or overt economic activities are undocumented migrants in Jeddah engaged in?; (6) Is the kaf?lah [sponsorship] system a fair and effective mechanism to deal with guest-worker issues?; (7) What did the government do, tactically, to influence and ‘persuade’ the undocumented to leave?; (8) What are the future plans and objectives of the undocumented?; and finally, (9) What is the long-term effect of this phenomenon on Jeddah?

Migration of Female Jihadists in Saudi Arabia:  Mobility and Gendered Agency

Sumayah Fatani, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies

This research focuses on a growing phenomenon of Saudi females who migrate to lands of jihad leaving behind their families, but not their children.  What they leave, and what they take once migration takes place is interesting to explore, in order to understand a different perspective in defining migration as a means for social-inclusivity, nation-building and gendered agency. The paper aims to analyse discourses used by Saudi female jihadists to justify their migration (framed in its religious terms as hijra).  Interestingly, this group of individuals usually espouses a doctrine of female immobilization in the Kingdom that has become customary in certain aspects, but legal in other facets (such as the male guardianship law/“wilayah”).  The research thus begs the question of understanding meanings of migration, which overlap within a complex dynamic of gender, as well as radicalism.  The presentation will also provide an overview of the case of female immobility in Saudi Arabia.  Towards that end, it will address the phenomenon of Saudi female jihadists migrating from Saudi Arabia, and how these can be challenging to a once espoused custom held in the highest esteem.  The paper will close with an assessment of pragmatic steps that may shed light on, and provide a new understanding of, gendered agency and nation-building, all within the context of jihadism