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Saudi Relief Center Head Welcomes Putin’s Visit, Hopes to Discuss Humanitarian Matters

© Sputnik / Sergey Guneev / Go to the photo bankRussian President Vladimir Putin's talks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia
Russian President Vladimir Putin's talks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia - Sputnik International
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UNITED NATIONS (Sputnik) - Saudi Arabia welcomes the upcoming visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Riyadh and hopes to expand on previous discussions of cooperation on humanitarian projects, the supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief), Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, said.

"First of all, we welcome President Putin to be in Saudi Arabia. The relation[ship] between Saudi Arabia and Russia is very important for us," Al-Rabeeah said.

On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Putin would pay a visit to Saudi Arabia in the middle of October.

When asked whether he would discuss humanitarian projects with Russia during Putin’s visit, Al-Rabeeah said that if "the President has delegates related to our work we would love to meet with them."

"It is a continuing dialogue with them. We would like to expand on our previous discussions. First of all, we have discussed in the past three things. One is an exchange of information, building capacity and also joint projects in countries of mutual interest," the relief centre head said.

Al-Rabeeah added that Russia and Saudi Arabia had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and needed to find a country that both of them were interested in for a pilot project.

The MoU deals with the exchange of information on humanitarian work, Al-Rabeeah said. As an example, he said that Saudi Arabia would inform Russia of nations it is currently helping and the "magnitude of the disaster" in each given location.

He remarked that Russia’s emergency ministry had a "very good command centre" and said his country hoped to learn from its experiences.

"Secondly, we want to also exchange the information of our programs with our counterparts in Russia because the more information they know about us, the better for them and for us. Thirdly we need to build capacities if we have the capabilities. We have good capabilities in the region. We can probably help. They have better capabilities in other regions that can help. So, building the capacity on either side is very good," Al-Rabeeah said.

Ahmad Al-Khateeb, the chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Heritage, said that Saudi Arabia and Russia would sign a number of MoUs and several deals on tourism during Putin’s visit.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the trip is set to enhance bilateral relations between the two countries and serve as an opportunity to compare notes on the recent events in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

Possible Saudi-Russia Joint Projects in Syria, Yemen

Al-Rabeeah continued to say that  Riyadh wants to have joint humanitarian projects with Russia in countries of mutual interest, including Syria and Yemen.

When asked where Saudi Arabia and Russia could implement such programs, Al-Rabeeah said: "We have discussed [this] before with Russia. We haven’t started yet. We have discussed two countries, Yemen and Syria."

He remarked that these countries appeared to have "the largest needs" in terms of humanitarian projects, adding that KSrelief would discuss these two possibilities with some of its Russian colleagues during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Riyadh.

"We have many projects in Yemen. We would love to share it with our Russian partners. We have many projects in Syria. We would like also to have a joint program with them. I know Russia has capabilities and we have capabilities so we can do a better job on the ground," the relief center head said.

Earlier in September, Saudi Arabia delivered on its pledge to provide another $500 million in aid to Yemen, bringing the kingdom's total contribution to the war-torn country this year to $775 million.

On February 26, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs secured $2.6 billion in aid pledges from various partners to fund the 2019 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan.

Regarding Syria, Al-Rabeeah told Sputnik earlier in September that Saudi Arabia was planning to intensify humanitarian projects in the country next year to alleviate the suffering of refugees and internally displaced persons.

The agency’s work in Syria is being accomplished through collaboration with UN partners, and Syrian regional and international non-governmental organizations, Al-Rabeeah added.

Both countries have suffered from protracted military conflicts that have forced millions of people to flee their homes.

Plans For Humanitarian Aid to Yemen

Riyadh will allocate more humanitarian aid funding for Yemen by the end of 2019, Al-Rabeeah, revealed.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia delivered on its pledge to provide another $500 million in aid to Yemen, bringing the kingdom's total contribution to the war-torn country this year to $775 million.

"So, this year we have donated $775 million US dollars and the year is not over. I’m sure if you look at it by December you’ll find it probably much higher than that number," Al-Rabeeah said.

The KS relief head remarked that Saudi Arabia had "always been the top donor ever for Yemen for the last 40 years" and remained one over the last several years as the latter struggled with a military conflict.

"From May 13, 2015, till today, Saudi Arabia has invested $14.5 billion in relief supporting the economy, supporting Yemen refugees and also supporting the Central Bank of Yemen," Al-Rabeeah said.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia had a lot of programs in Yemen.

"We have three offices in Yemen. We have programs in the north of Yemen. We have programs in the south. Food security programs. Health programs. Child soldier rehabilitation programs. As you know there are many child soldiers recruited by the Houthis. We are taking those children, putting them in psychological, educational and social programs because we don’t want them to be terrorists for us or for you or for anybody else. They have to be counseled, and we’re doing that," Al-Rabeeah said.

The relief center head said there was a special school for these children in Marib, and Saudi Arabia was building two more similar schools in different parts of Yemen.

Regarding Saudi Arabia’s help with demining, Al-Rabeeah explained that one of the projects was to train Yemeni experts and "give them the right tools to do it."

Yet another program focuses on prosthetics.

"We now have three [prosthetics centers] in Yemen, one in Marib, one in Aden and the third is just going to be commissioned next week or the week after in Taizz because many children and elderly people and women have lost their either legs or hands, and we are trying to help them. And lastly, we are a child- and women-focused organization, so in Yemen alone we have 150 projects directed to children and 170 projects directed for women," Al-Rabeeah said.

Al-Rabeeah also said that  Saudi Arabia has invited Russia to use its ports, including Jazan, in order to get humanitarian aid to conflict-torn Yemen. 

"Saudi Arabia has offered its partners, including Russia, by the way, to use the land ports of Saudi Arabia going to the north of Yemen and also Jazan port which is a huge Saudi port much closer to the north of Yemen than Al Hudaydah and the WFP [World Food Programme] and WHO [World Health Organization] are now starting to use it," Al-Rabeeah said.

Work in Syria

Saudi Arabia has the funds to help Syria, but it needs access to provide humanitarian aid, Al-Rabeeah shared.

"We have no problem with the funding. We have this year a significant amount of money in Syria as I mentioned in a TV interview — we have hundreds of millions of dollars for Syria. This year, I think we have planned for 300 plus 10 and 20 million US dollars as a program. The problem in Syria for us is not money. The problem inside Syria is access, but that’s why we are using the United Nations — because they are probably the most suitable to work inside Syria," Al-Rabeeah said.

Al-Rabeeah said Saudi Arabia would look at what priorities Syria had in terms of rebuilding and direct its aid accordingly.

"If the priority No.1 will be health, we will go for health. If it is related to education, we will go for education. If it is historical sites, then we will consider it. But I think in Syria, as you know, many children deserve proper education and many families deserve better health. These will probably take precedence or the priority over any other thing in Syria. But if that’s been taken care of by friendly countries we will look at others," the head of the relief center said.

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