In interviews over the past month, diplomats and aid workers have stressed that the Syrian crisis is too enormous and underfunded for wealthy Arab nations to work outside the international framework. Theyve launched a quiet campaign to nudge Gulf states into joining the international funding efforts, lobbying through Western embassies in the Gulf and inviting delegates on trips to see firsthand how the aid reaches refugees.
The process, however, remains fraught. For example, officials said, some members of Congress sought to publicize the issue but were discouraged by diplomats, who worried that a public shaming would strain relations with the Gulf states, whom they need not only for the humanitarian crisis but also for support of the Syrian political opposition and the insurgency thats fighting Assad.
For now, aid officials are keeping the pressure private while publicly offering thanks for whatever the Gulf nations send.
There is still a long way to go, in my opinion, in order to make sure that different cultures, different approaches, different methodologies of work, can be made entirely compatible and can be fully coordinated, said Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees. Its a work in progress. There has been a lot of dialogue with most of the entities from the area.
That cause is helped by the success story in Kuwait, which became the first Gulf state to fulfill its pledge $300 million through the United Nations and its partner agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration.
In the humanitarian aid community, the Kuwaiti move is heralded as groundbreaking. Anne Richard, the State Departments assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration, lavished praise on the tiny nation at a recent news conference where she spoke alongside Guterres.
Kuwaits ambassador to the United States, Salem al Sabah, said in a phone interview that his state broke from the rest of the region without hesitation because Kuwaiti leadership was convinced that the international agencies were best-equipped to distribute aid in a crisis of this magnitude.
The message from Kuwait to our friends in the Gulf and the region is: We need to do something, and quickly, he said. We hope this will be an example.
Al Sabah said he wouldnt discuss the actions of fellow Gulf states, but he acknowledged that the issue of the unfulfilled pledges arises in bilateral meetings. Whenever we meet with our friends, we try to remind them of their pledges, he said.
At the overcrowded, dismal Zaatari camp, residents need no reminder of the Gulf states contributions, which sometimes exacerbate tensions because theyre distributed haphazardly.
The most visible example is the so-called Saudi quarter, with some 2,000 trailers donated by Saudi Arabia. Theyre intended for especially vulnerable refugees such as the elderly or those with serious diseases, but that message doesnt always make it to the seething thousands who are living in tents and suffering from a lack of security and privacy. There are frequent fights in the camp over access to resources.
Perhaps those that are in the caravans are the most vulnerable, but theres not enough for everyone, said Clements, of the State Department.
On a recent Friday, the prayer leader in the Zaatari camp gave a sermon that reflected the refugees frustration with the Gulf countries, which many think could do much more given their vast oil wealth. The angry sermon, later posted to YouTube, blasted Gulf leaders for not opening their borders to fleeing Syrians and for treating them like animals by giving them handouts of food and tents.
Protests are frequent after the weekly congregational prayer, but that Friday yielded the biggest demonstration yet, said Ayman Arabiyat, the director of the Jordanian press office for the Zaatari camp.
Compared with their financial ability, is it really such a big thing? Arabiyat said of the Gulf donors. They could build them cities.