LONDON: Qatar snubbed an opportunity on Tuesday to end its “inhumane” persecution of a Qatari tribe who have been stripped of their citizenship.
The Doha regime’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva boasted of Qatar’s efforts to help stateless people in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Sudan — but made no mention of those made stateless by his own country.
The envoy, Ali Khalfan Al-Mansouri, told a special session of the UN refugee agency’s executive committee that Qatar’s policy on statelessness was “determined by the law and shall be constitutional.”
He failed to explain the plight of 6,000 members of the Al-Ghufran tribe, who have been denied their rights as Qatari citizens. Their collective punishment began in 1995, when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani deposed his father Sheikh Khalifa as emir, and the clan were accused of involvement in a failed counter coup.
Since then they have been stripped of their citizenship, with many forced to live in exile.
“I did not expect Qatar to change its position,” one of the exiles, Jaber Rashid Al-Ghufrani, told Arab News. “If Qatar wanted to find a solution, it would have found it a long time ago.
“What the tribesmen in Qatar are bearing now is painful and cruel. They are imprisoned. They cannot travel and have been prohibited from Hajj and Umrah for years. The government of Qatar has turned their homeland into a large prison that they are forbidden to leave.
“We, outside Qatar, live a much better life than the Al-Ghufran tribe who still lives there. They have no access to education, nor to medication, nor to a decent life, nor to travel. They are indirectly threatened by the Qatari Human Rights Commission. If anyone from the Al-Ghufran family speaks to the media or claims that their most basic rights are deprived, they may be imprisoned."
Another tribe member, Rashed Mohammed Al-Amrah, said: “Unfortunately, our country Qatar has been prepared for a long time. It is exerting all its efforts in denying the Al-Ghufran family’s rights in their homeland, more than anything that may serve the country. Withdrawing their nationalities does not serve the homeland in any way.
“What Qatar did today in Geneva is a continuation of this policy, but we will not remain silent and we will spare no effort to obtain our rights one day.
“Qatar is no stranger to the mobilization of its army of lawyers, and to buying assets in order to deny a certain category their nationality, their citizenship, and to deprive them of their rights. Qatar is good at this, but we will not remain silent. There are other human rights organizations, and there are international courts.”
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia was commended by the UN’s refugee agency chief for its “very important and ... not always well known” humanitarian work with refugees around the world and at home, and its support for stateless people who have sought refuge in the Kingdom.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was speaking at the special UNHCR executive committee meeting in Geneva to mark the mid-point of a campaign launched in 2014 with the aim of ending global statelessness by 2024.
Abdulaziz Abdullah Alkhayyal, vice president of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, told delegates the Kingdom had been carrying out “overarching reforms” across all government departments to ensure that “all persons residing in Saudi Arabia have the right to identity, health, education and work.”
Political, economic and social changes in other countries had “led to certain of their citizens establishing themselves in ... Saudi Arabia,” he said. The Kingdom had “taken various decisions on humanist principles to ensure that such persons are accorded all the necessary conditions to live a dignified life with safeguarding of their basic rights.
“We are currently adopting a national comprehensive program to settle the situation of all irregular residents in the Kingdom, including stateless persons, guaranteeing their human rights and a dignified life.”
The Saudi government had provided identity documents to “more than 800,000 persons who had been living in an irregular way in the Kingdom,” he said, to “ensure that they can travel, work, and receive education and health care.” The government had also granted an amnesty waiving “various taxes payable for illegal residency.”
More than 50,000 people and their families had been granted Saudi nationality, Alkhayyal said. He made no direct reference to the case of the Al-Ghufran tribe, many of whom have sought refuge in Saudi Arabia, but this figure is likely to include many of them.
Saudi Arabia adopted a “humanist approach to assistance ... in all humanitarian situations worldwide” and had given some US$18 billion “to lessen the burden of refugees in regions that are suffering conflict or natural disasters,” Alkhayyal said.
This included more than US$160 million given to help Syrian refugees. “We are currently implementing 129 programmes through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) to support Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece.”
Saudi Arabia also had 12 programs under way providing support for Yemeni refugees in Somalia and Djibouti, and had provided US$900 million in aid for Palestinian refugees.
In addition to giving US$38 million of assistance to ease the Rohingya refugee crisis, Saudi Arabia also organised a donor conference, in collaboration with the UNHCR, the UAE, Kuwait and Bangladesh, “which enabled us to raise US$250 million from donor states to finance a comprehensive crisis management plan.”
In all, Alkhayyal said, Saudi Arabia was supporting 26 million refugees worldwide. Of these about 1.74 million live in the Kingdom “and on humanitarian grounds we consider them not as refugees but as visitors who are entitled to all essential rights, including free education and health care. They do not live in camps but in high-quality homes.”
He said the Kingdom would “do its utmost to provide aid and assistance across the board to such categories of person and to bolster and protect human rights.”