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Skyline with the skyscrapers in the financial area of Doha, the capital of Qatar.  © 2017 Sergi Reboredo/AP Images

(Beirut) – Qatar authorities are threatening to forcibly expel a Yemeni national without considering his claim for asylum, Human Rights Watch said today. The man is in Qatar with his wife and two young children.

The government has so far failed to implement a law passed in September 2018 that sets out the standards for granting asylum and the rights and benefits for people granted asylum in the country. The government says that the infrastructure necessary to enforce the law has not yet been set up.

“By failing to implement the asylum law, Qatari authorities appear to be abandoning the promise of protection they made to asylum seekers in 2018,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Qatar should urgently create the procedures needed to give asylum seekers an opportunity to present and pursue their claims and stop turning asylum seekers away without consideration.”

The Yemeni national, who says he is at risk of arrest and torture by the Houthi armed group if returned to Yemen, told Human Rights Watch that since November 2017, officers at the Interior Ministry’s Search and Follow-up Department have been pressuring him to leave Qatar for a third country voluntarily or risk being forcibly expelled from the country. He said that the authorities first threatened to deport him to Yemen, but recently said they will deport him to Oman or to Sudan.

But he cannot enter Oman without a visa, and the country has no legal protections for asylum seekers. Sudan is one of the few countries that allow Yemeni nationals to enter without a visa, but he said that he and his family have no meaningful connections there.

Based on detailed and credible information he provided to Human Rights Watch, the Yemeni national should qualify for political asylum under Qatar’s Law no. 11/2018, article 1, which protects refugees who are “unable or unwilling to return to their country due to a justified fear of execution or bodily punishment, torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, or persecution, on account of their ethnicity, religion, or affiliation with a specific social group, or due to their political beliefs.”

In April 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on all countries to suspend forcible returns of nationals or habitual residents of Yemen to the country, stating that anyone forcibly returned to Yemen faces serious risks to their physical safety from the ongoing armed conflict and laws-of-war violations by the warring parties.

In order for Qatar’s asylum law to go into effect, article 4 stipulates that the interior minister needs to create a Committee for Political Asylee Affairs, name its members, describe its functions, and specify its duties and scope of authority. The committee should consist of representatives from the Interior, Foreign, and Justice Ministries, the state security apparatus, and the National Committee for Human Rights. Nearly six months after the law was passed, however, the interior minister has not published the decision establishing the committee.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the human rights departments of the Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministries and the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) on January 20, 2019, when Qatari authorities were threatening to return the Yemeni national to Yemen within the week. The Interior Ministry stayed his deportation but soon after, he said, officials again began to threaten to deport him to a third country if he does not leave voluntarily, telling him that he cannot claim asylum because the committee has not been set up yet.

The Human Rights Committee responded and told Human Rights Watch that there is no clear timeline for when the minister will establish the committee.

Article 6 of the law says the interior minister can grant a person petitioning for asylum three months of temporary residency, subject to renewal, until a final decision on his asylum application is made.

Qatar is obligated as a party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment not to return or extradite anyone if there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. In light of that and the passage of the asylum law, Qatar should grant the Yemeni national temporary residency until his asylum claim is considered, Human Rights Watch said.

“Qatari authorities have had nearly six months to create the framework necessary to implement a much-needed law,” said Fakih. “Instead, in a blow to their stated sincerity around reform, they appear poised to turn away one of its first potential beneficiaries.”

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