Thousands of people in the Gulf face the prospect of their lives being further disrupted and their families torn apart as new arbitrary measures announced by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the context of their dispute with Qatar are due to come into force from today, said Amnesty International.
The three Gulf states had given their citizens the deadline of 19 June to leave Qatar and return to their respective countries or face fines and other unspecified consequences. They had given Qatari nationals the same deadline to leave Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and have refused entry to Qatari nationals since 5 June. “The situation that people across the Gulf have been placed in shows utter contempt for human dignity. This arbitrary deadline has caused widespread uncertainty and dread amongst thousands of people who fear they will be separated from their loved ones,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Global Issues Programme.
“With these measures, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have needlessly put mixed-nationality families at the heart of a political crisis.”
“They should immediately cancel this sinister arbitrary deadline, otherwise thousands of families risk being torn apart, with others losing their jobs or the opportunity to continue their education. People undergoing medical treatment are being made to choose between continuing their treatment or complying with the overly broad and harsh measures announced by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain.”
The dispute has created growing concern about what will happen if residents choose to remain with their families across Gulf states. Some have told Amnesty International they are preparing to travel to countries outside the dispute to be reunited with their families.
The governments of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE have made statements acknowledging the impact of their measures on mixed-nationality families and announced the establishment of emergency hot lines for affected individuals. Such a measure is clearly insufficient to address the human rights impact of the arbitrary, blanket measures imposed on 5 June.
Additionally, Amnesty International has spoken to a number of people who tried to call these hot lines. Their experiences raise serious questions about whether these hot lines are providing effective advice or information. Several people said they had tried in vain for hours or days to get through to the hot lines. Those who got through said officials asked them for minimal details about their cases and told them they would receive a call back, but there had been no follow-up. Amnesty International has rung the hot lines and asked how cases registered were being dealt with, but officials were not able to provide any information.
Some affected families have told Amnesty International that they are too scared to call hot lines and register their presence, or their family’s presence, in a “rival” country for fear of reprisal.
Statements by the authorities in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain that people will be punished for expressing sympathy towards Qatar or criticizing government actions have contributed to the climate of fear spreading across the region.
On 13 June a Bahraini lawyer was arrested after he filed a lawsuit against his government arguing that the measures taken against Qatar are unconstitutional and violate the rights of Bahraini citizens, then posted a copy of this complaint on his Facebook page.
A Qatari man unable to return to his farmland in Saudi Arabia has told Amnesty International that his friends in Saudi Arabia were too scared to look after his land or remain in contact with him for fear of being prosecuted by the Saudi Arabian government for sympathizing with him.
“It is unthinkable that states can so blatantly infringe on the right to freedom of expression. Citizens have the right to express views and concerns about their governments, as well as feelings of sympathy towards others,” said James Lynch.