(Beirut) – Qatar should admit a man trapped on the border with Saudi Arabia since June 17, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today.
Qatari authorities claim the man, Zayed al-Marri, is a Saudi citizen. But he says he is a Qatari who was stripped of his citizenship and has lived in Saudi Arabia since 1996. Qatar should allow him entry to review the decision to strip him of his citizenship, and if it was arbitrary, restore his citizenship and the accompanying rights. On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar and ordered the expulsion of Qatari citizens and the return of their citizens from Qatar within 14 days. Saudi Arabia’s expulsion of Qataris is arbitrary and inhumane, and should be reversed without delay.
“Qatari grievances in the gulf dispute are no justification for stranding vulnerable people in the desert,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia and Qatar should not treat human lives like ping pong balls to hit back and forth.”
A member of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee told Human Rights Watch that al-Marri’s case is one of at least 10 of families from the al-Gufran clan, whose citizenship is disputed. The other members of the clan have crossed through the Saudi Salwa border crossing and been allowed to enter through the Qatari Abu Samra crossing. The committee said that Qatar has permitted all to enter except al-Marri, who Qatar claims is a Saudi citizen.
Al-Marri told Human Rights Watch that Qatar revoked his citizenship in 1996, and he provided a photo of his expired Qatari passport. He said the family had lived semi-nomadically in Saudi Arabia since then. In 2004, Qatar also stripped approximately 6,000 members of the same al-Gufran clan of their citizenship. Two representatives of the clan told Human Rights Watch that they believe the action was related to participation of some members of the clan in a failed 1996 coup against then-Emir Hamad Al Thani, who had deposed his father, Khalifa Al Thani, the year before.
“When the crisis hit, the Saudi government said to me, ‘Go back to your country,’” Al-Marri told Human Rights Watch. “So, I came to Qatar [on June 17], and they said my passport is expired and so now I’m stuck between the Saudi border and the Qatari one.” He contended that Saudi border authorities would not have permitted him to cross the border to the Qatari side if they believed he held Saudi citizenship.
On June 20, he said that Qatari border authorities had provided him with food and water and treated him at the border clinic for sunstroke: “I was feeling terrible. A guy passing through took me to the Qatari border, and I was treated at the clinic. The doctor said I had to be transferred to a hospital inside Doha but the guards wouldn’t let me. They said I don’t have identification and sent [me] back here … I can’t take it anymore, not one minute more.” A family member told Human Rights Watch that Qatari authorities took him from the border to a hospital in Doha for treatment on the evening of June 22, but returned him to the border zone the next day.
He said that he had attempted to re-enter Saudi Arabia after Qatar denied his entry, but that a Saudi border guard told him, “You are Qatari, how are we supposed to let you in?” and told him to go back to the Qatari border guards and ask them to let him in.
Qatari authorities provided Human Rights Watch a copy of a Saudi passport for a man bearing the name Zayed Nassar H. Al Mari. Al-Marri disputes that he is a Saudi citizen, and the expired Qatari passport he provided carries the name Zayed Nasser H. Shafah, though he acknowledges Al-Marri as his family name. The birth dates on the two documents do not match. Al-Marri told Human Rights Watch that he shares a similar name with the individual holding the Saudi passport but denies that it is his.
Human Rights Watch maintained telephone contact with al-Marri between June 18 and 23, after which he apparently lost access to his mobile phone. He remains stuck on the Abu Samra border, but Human Rights Watch does not know whether he is permitted to stay indoors. Temperatures in the border area reached as high as 49 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) in June.
Al-Marri is likely on Qatari territory, as the Qatari Abu Samra crossing is over eight kilometers from the Saudi Salwa crossing. As such, Qatar has an obligation to ensure his right to freedom of movement and access to basic rights such as food, water, and shelter. Every person also has a right to a nationality.
Human Rights Watch also spoke with another family of denationalized Qataris from the al-Gufran clan whose members were stranded in the border area between June 13 and 15, after which Qatari authorities permitted them to enter. The family of eight, including four children as young as 5 and a woman who is eight months pregnant, said they waited near the Qatari side of the border in temperatures reaching over 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) for two days without regular access to food and water.
A member of the family said that his family was originally Qatari but has lived in Saudi Arabia since 2006. In 2004, he said, Qatar withdrew nationality from his entire family and thousands of members of his extended al-Gufran clan. He said that he and his family members do not hold Saudi citizenship, and faced difficulties trying to attend school and to work in Saudi Arabia without legal documentation. He said: “We lived in Saudi just like the bidun [stateless people in the Gulf]. We were not recognized. We don’t study, we don’t own any property, we can’t marry, and we can’t work freely.”
He said that he fled to the border on June 11, 2017, fearing that he would be detained in Saudi Arabia, which has initiated a broad campaign to locate and expel foreigners in violation of residency laws. His mother and six siblings joined him at the border at 3 p.m. on June 13. His two youngest siblings are 5-year-old twins.
He said that when he arrived at the border, the Qatari border authorities would not allow him to enter and that a Saudi border guard would not let him re-enter the country.
“Gulf countries need to take a step back and see the hardships that this dispute is arbitrarily imposing on people attempting to live their lives in peace,” Whitson said. “These countries should put people’s welfare – and their right to a nationality – ahead of political disputes.”