“The Unforgiven”: Al-Ghufran families ‘arbitrarily stripped of Qatari citizenship,’ HRW says

Members of the Al-Ghufran clan are being deprived of key human rights by the Qatari government, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement released on Sunday. (A delegation from the Al-Ghufran tribe has taken their case to the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2018. (Supplied/File Photo)
Updated 07 October 2019

“The Unforgiven”: Al-Ghufran families ‘arbitrarily stripped of Qatari citizenship,’ HRW says

  • Some members of the clan remain stateless and are consistently denied their rights
  • UNHRC to conduct third review of Qatar's human rights record May 15

LONDON: Members of the Al-Ghufran clan are being deprived of key human rights by the Qatari government, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement released on Sunday.

Some members of the clan remain stateless and are consistently denied their rights to work, access to health care, education, marriage and starting a family, owning property, and freedom of movement, the HRW report said.

Having been stripped of valid idenity documentation by the Qatari authorities, they continue to face difficulties opening bank accounts and attaining driving licenses and find themselves at risk of arbitrary detention, it added.

For those Al-Ghufran clan members living in Qatar, they are denied a range of government benefits afforded to other Qatari citizens — including state jobs, subsidies for food and energy as well as free health care.

Lama Fakih, the acting Middle East director at HRW said: “Many stateless members of the Ghufran clan are still denied redress today, the Qatari government should immediately end the suffering of those left stateless and give them and those who have since acquired other nationalities a clear path toward regaining their Qatari citizenship.”

HRW interviewed nine members of three stateless Al-Ghufran families living in Qatar and one person from a fourth family who lives in Saudi Arabia — in total there are 28 stateless individuals in the four families. A further four people interviewed, two of whom live in Qatar, said they decided to become Saudi citizens a decade ago after Qatar stripped them of their citizenship.

The report cited a 56-year-old man whose citizenship — along with that of his five children — was stripped in 2004, and who said: “I have no property in my name, no house, no income, no health card, I can’t even open a bank account, it’s like I don’t even exist. When I get sick (instead of going to a doctor or hospital) I take Panadol and hope for the best.”

The Al-Ghufran are a branch of the semi-nomadic Al-Murrah group who are among one of the largest tribes in Qatar. While citizenship has been restored to a number of Al-Ghufran who had their citizenship stripped in 1996, there are still some families still have no clear path to restore their citizenship.

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The group took their plight to the UN in September 2018 where they told the world how they were stripped of their nationality and were suffering torture, forced displacement and deportation in a 22-year campaign of systematic persecution by authorities in Qatar

According tot he HRW report, the Qatari government said those stripped of citizenship often hold a second nationality, especially in Saudi Arabia, because a large faction of the Al-Murrah settled in Saudi Arabia and gained Saudi citizenship. Dual citizenship is prohibited under Qatar’s nationality law, as in other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

None of the stateless members received official or written communication stating the reason behind the revocation of their citizenship or offered the chance to appeal, according to the report. All, including those who returned to Qatar in 2017, said they either fled, were deported, or were denied entry back into Qatar after their citizenship was revoked. They said they settled for several years in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or Kuwait as stateless persons. All showed documentary evidence that they were Qatari nationals.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will conduct its third review of Qatar's human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure on May 15 in Geneva.

“The Qatari government should create a timely and transparent system to review the citizenship claims of members of Ghufran clan,” Fakih said. “Qatar should follow the positive recent steps it’s taken in ratifying core human rights treaties and make sure the rights enshrined there are being respected.”

All the Al-Ghufran members that HRW interviewed said they relied on the generosity of people sympathetic to their cause to cover their basic needs.

“Anwar,” 40, whose Saudi citizenship has expired in Qatar, refuses to renew it for fear of losing the chance to one day regain his Qatari citizenship, saying: “Getting the Saudi citizenship was simply a matter of attempting to pursue a dignified life. No more, no less. I didn’t want to leave Qatar. I want to remain in this country, my country … my life in Qatar now is such a struggle. I wish to work. I wish to be married. But I don’t have any identification documents that are valid today. And everything requires connections.”

Many Al-Ghufran clan members said they ended up in exile as a result of being stripped of citizenship and have effectively been deprived of their property, including their homes, in Qatar.

According to the HRW report, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of it.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Qatar ratified in April 1995, recognizes the right of the child to be registered immediately after birth and to acquire a nationality, “in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless” (article 7), and if the child has been “illegally deprived” of their nationality, to re-establish it “speedily” (article eight). The Convention prohibits discrimination (article 2), including in education, and obliges states to make higher education available to all on the basis of their capacity (article 28).

The rights to work, health, and education, are also enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Qatar also ratified in May 2018.

Many of these rights and the right to property are protected in the revised Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Qatar ratified in 2013.

The Unforgiven
How thousands of members of Qatar’s Al-Ghufran tribe are still paying the price for a failed coup in which they played no part.

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From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

Updated 01 June 2020

From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

  • Doors open again after virus lockdown
  • Internal flights resume from Saudi airports

JEDDAH/AMMAN: It began at dawn. As the first light appeared on the horizon and the call to Fajr prayer rang out, Muslims from Riyadh to Madinah and Jeddah to Jerusalem returned to their mosques on Sunday after a two-month break that for many was unbearable.

More than 90,000 mosques throughout Saudi Arabia were deep cleaned and sanitized in preparation for the end of the coronavirus lockdown. Worshippers wore face masks, kept a minimum of two meters apart, brought their own prayer mats and performed the ablution ritual at home.

“My feelings are indescribable. We are so happy. Thank God we are back in His house,” said Abdulrahman, 45, at Al-Rajhi mosque in Riyadh, where worshippers had their temperatures checked before entering.

Television screens inside the mosque displayed written instructions, including the need to maintain a safe distance from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Jerusalem, at 3:30 a.m. thousands crowded outside three gates assigned to be opened to allow Muslims to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque. Young and old, men and women, many with their phone cameras on, chanted religious songs as they waited to return for the first time since the virus lockdown began.

“Those wishing to pray were checked for their temperature and those without a mask were given one by Waqf staff. All were asked to stay a safe distance from each other when they prayed,” Mazen Sinokrot, a member of the Islamic Waqf, told Arab News.

Wasfi Kailani executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque told Arab News that enabling Muslims to pray in large numbers and according to health requirements had gone smoothly.

“People cooperated with the local Muslim authorities and followed the regulations.” The people of Jerusalem had shown a high degree of responsibility, he said.

Israeli police spokesman Miky Rosenfeld told Arab News that extra police units had been  mobilized in the old city of Jerusalem for the reopening of Al-Aqsa. 

“People arrived in the areas scheduled according to health and security guidelines,” he said.

Khaled Abu Arafeh, a former Minister for Jerusalem in the Ismael Haniyeh government in 2006, said people were happy to be able to pray once more at Islam’s third-holiest site.

“It is time to open a new page in cooperation with local institutions and with Jordan to regain all that has been lost over the years,” he told Arab News.

“The Waqf council has done a good job in dealing with the contradictions and pressures that they are under, which is like walking on a knife’s edge as they deal with the occupiers on the one hand and the health situation on the other, while also trying to be responsive to the desires of worshippers.”

Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, commercial flights took to the air again, office staff returned to work and restaurants resumed serving diners as life began a gradual return to normal after the coronavirus lockdown.

Eleven of the Kingdom’s 28 airports opened on Sunday for the first time since March 21. “The progressive and gradual reopening aims at controlling the crowds inside airports because we want to achieve the highest health efficiency,” civil aviation spokesman Ibrahim bin Abdullah Alrwosa told Arab News.

No one without an e-ticket will be allowed into an airport, face masks must be worn and safe distancing observed, and children under 15 may not travel unaccompanied.