As the subtitle non too subtly suggests, Kéchichian and Alsharif have an apologetic mission to fulfill in this study published under the auspices of a Saudi monarchical institution. Contra the kingdom's reputation for closed borders and parsimony, they argue it has welcomed and spent lavishly on refugees. The authors make clear that they wrote Sa'udi Policies to counter what they consider to be unfair criticisms, quoting many critics in a hurt tone. As one of those critics, one who has written repeatedly on this topic since 2013, this reviewer takes keen interest in seeing the counter-argument. It goes like this:
As a non-signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 follow-up Optional Protocol, Riyadh does not label refugees as such but rather as "brothers and sisters." Due to this semantic difference, the outside world is blinded to the country's generous and far-sighted immigration and integration policies. For example, rather than cram refugees into isolated camps to fester, the Saudi authorities sprinkle them around the country, give them education and work opportunities, naturalize them, and turn them into productive Saudi subjects. Kéchichian and Alsharif, both non-academic specialists on Saudi Arabia, assert very substantial numbers of such refugees coming from many countries, such as 500,000 Rohingyas and two and a half million Syrians.
This reviewer cannot ascertain the truth of such gigantic numbers; he can only judge their credibility. Here, things collapse due to lack of specificity. In the course of a 362-page book, the authors provide no information on the annual influx of refugees, their demographic profile, their destinations within the kingdom, their educational careers, their work characteristics, their socioeconomic standing, their interactions with the native population, their relations with other immigrant communities, their engagement with the state, or anything else.
This radical absence of detail makes it difficult to believe the book's blithely asserted grand statistics. Surely, a study proving the critics wrong should devote much less space to treaties, Qur'anic quotations, and disquisitions of Islamic law, and much more to specifics of refugee life, including photographs and personal stories. Until the refugees are brought to life in a future study, skepticism of the official Saudi line as issued by Kéchichian and Alsharif remains prudent.