Thousands of ordinary people are bearing the brunt of a six-month blockade imposed on Qatar by neighbouring Arab states, especially through forced separation, a new Amnesty International report has found.
The human rights group called on Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to lift the blockade in order to end a series of “arbitrary restrictions” on families, many of which have been divided as a result of the Qatar-Gulf crisis.
“The sudden imposition of restrictions impacted thousands of families and individuals across the region who make-up a tight-knit social fabric cutting across national borders,” Amnesty said in a detailed statement released on Thursday.
The blockade is causing several hardships, the group said, including “splitting up families, interrupting students’ education, threatening jobs, raising prices of staple foods in Qatar, and leaving residents of the region facing an uncertain future”.
The governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017 amid a tense political dispute.
The countries later imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar.
They also ordered Qatari residents to leave their countries and ordered their citizens to return home from Qatar.
Families with members that hold different citizenship were split up as a result of the policy, Amnesty documented.
While it is now possible for travellers to go from Qatar to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or the UAE with a “laissez-passer” document detailing the humanitarian reason for the visit, “such measures are clearly insufficient to address the human rights impact of the arbitrary, blanket measures on the region’s citizens”, the group said.
Many people also remain unsure about how to secure the laissez-passer.
In one case, a Saudi woman married to a Qatari man said she had not seen her elderly parents in six months. “I tried to go once. They turned me back [at the land border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia],” she told Amnesty.
Another woman, a Qatari national who is married to a Bahraini man, told the human rights group she has not tried to visit Bahrain due to confusion over the procedures.
“You need to have a laissez-passer,” she said.
“We are afraid to try and go to Bahrain because my husband and children might be banned from coming back to Qatar.
“My children are in schools here they cannot stop their education if Bahrain did not allow them to enter Qatar after the visit.”
Amnesty also called on Saudi Arabia to allow Qatari nationals and foreign residents living in Qatar to have access to the important Muslim holy sites in the country.
Before the blockade came into effect, about 50,000 Qataris and between 60-80,000 Qatar residents participated in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia every year, according to Qatar’s Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, the report said.
Migrant workers in Qatar have also acutely felt the effect of rising food prices, after Qatar was forced to import food and drink from new countries.
While the Qatari government recently announced a temporary minimum income for migrant workers, Amnesty called for additional measures to help mitigate the rising cost of food and drink.
That could include subsidies, Amnesty said, to “ensure that any impacts on access to adequate food from the political dispute are minimised”.