The overwhelming majority of Western expats currently detained in the Gulf States have been convicted on financial charges which are not criminal offenses in their home countries. Things like bounced cheques have led to wrongful imprisonment in case after case and these detainees now face a substantial threat from exposure to the Coronavirus in overcrowded, unhygienic facilities in countries like the UAE and Qatar. Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International, who campaigns on behalf of expats who have been falsely accused or wrongfully detained overseas, has called for Gulf States to immediately release prisoners and foreign nationals under court-ordered travel bans, and to expedite their return home.
“Not only do prison conditions present the potential for rapid and uncontrollable spread of the virus, with often non-existent medical care; but the measures being taken thus far by the governments in the region are inadequate to protect the public,” Stirling says, “Our citizens, whether from the UK, Australia, Canada, Europe or the US, who are held in the Gulf on private financial disputes pose no risk to anyone if they are repatriated, but are themselves at a severe risk if they are not.”
The UAE has confirmed around 200 cases of Coronavirus, and Qatar has close to 500 at the time of Stirling’s comments. Both countries risk potential exposure from significant Iranian populations and trade. Iran has the highest incidence of Coronavirus in the region, with over 23,000 cases and nearly 2,000 deaths so far. Qatar and the Emirates have banned commercial air flights to and from Iran, but sea transport continues with few restrictions.
“There are families in the UK, Europe, Canada, Australia and the US who have already been unfairly separated from their loved one for months or even years because these unwarranted travel bans and wrongful detentions; and they are absolutely frantic about the health and safety of those they care about while they are trapped in the Gulf,” Stirling reiterates, “What compassion requires in these cases does not in any way impinge on what justice requires; these detainees are not criminals, they are not dangerous people, they are ordinary business people and professionals, and they are in an extremely vulnerable position. We are calling upon the governments of Qatar and the UAE specifically to release our citizens and let them come home, and we are asking the relevant officials of Western governments, including the UK, to urgently request the repatriation of our detained citizens to ensure their safety amidst the growing Coronavirus pandemic”