Last month, Qatar became the first Gulf nation to enact a procedure that sets out requirements for asylum seekers in the country.
The move comes as Qatar is battling a boycott from other GCC nations. After Saudi Arabia led the boycott of Qatar, the GCC nations asked their nationals to return home while giving Qatari citizens a short-time to do the same.
But despite the calls, some citizens of the Saudi bloc of GCC stayed in Qatar for work or family reasons. Qatar granted them visas and extended their stay but the latest asylum law paves a way for them to permanent residency. The new law is nothing short of a blessing for them as a return home could lead to their persecution by their home states.
Qatar has shown a pattern of taking a more liberal approach. Last year as its’ neighbors carried out hundreds of executions, Qatar’s score remained nil. Though not reported in much of the Western media, Qatar did not carry out a single execution compared to 23 in the United States.
As welcoming as the Emir’s move was, it does little beyond giving a relief to GCC citizens seeking a permanent stay in Qatar. That alone is an act worthy of praise and shows the progress Qatar has made at the time when its’ powerful neighbors have revived draconian practices in the name of national security.
Although the new law is being sold as a relief for the persecuted, there are many reasons why it is not so. For one, Qatar hasn’t yet acceded to the 1951 refugee convention and its’ 1967 Protocol, which lays out the rights of the refugees.
States do not have to be a party to the refugee convention to accept refugees. Pakistan, which like Qatar is also not a party to the 1951 refugee convention, took in 3 million Afghan refugees. But being party to the convention means that the nation is legally obliged to guarantee the rights of refugees.
When you read the requirements for the refugees in Qatar, it is clear why the Emir didn’t ascend to the convention. The new law doesn’t allow refugees the basic freedoms that the citizens have.
Article 10 doesn’t allow refugees to change their assigned place of residence without approval from the state. Other permanent residents even of foreign roots are not subject to this requirement. It shows that the new law subjects refugees to different criteria, which could alienate them and stop them from fully assimilating with the local population.
Article 6 lays out the most stringent requirement for refugees. It demands that they cease their political activities. As in most nations around Qatar, political dissidents are most likely to seek refuge in Qatar.
If Qatar will not allow them the freedom to engage in political activities then there is no incentive for political dissidents to go there since Qatar demands the same political silence as the countries these dissidents want to flee.
Article 6 does not mean that Qatar will not grant asylum to political refugees, it only shows that Qatar is against allowing political activities of any sort on its’ land. If refugees do not adhere to this requirement, the interior ministry has the right to deport the refugees.
The law clearly says that no asylum seeker should be returned to a country where they could face torture and persecution. But despite that, it requires that the asylum seeker must belong to a specific ethnicity, religion, or a social group.
It means that a gay couple from Iran wouldn’t be eligible for asylum in Qatar and could be deported back to Iran where homosexuality is punishable by death.
Such a bigoted standard flies in the face of the basic essence of offering refuge. It shows that while Qatar claims a high moral ground, it engages in the same type of discrimination as its’ neighbors.
Just like in other GCC nations, the authorities do not give a reason for rejecting a visa application. Article 8 subjects asylum requests to the same principle. It means that if an asylum request is denied, Qatar will not give a reason to justify its’ decision, which means that there is no mechanism to appeal a decision. The best an asylum seeker could do is appeal to the Prime Minister but that is unlikely to reverse a decision. The asylum seekers have no way to present their case to a tribunal or a court.
Although showing the willingness to process asylum requests is a welcome precedent in the Gulf World, the new law is nothing beyond an amnesty for GCC citizens who refuse to return to their home countries. That amnesty alone is worthy of a praise but calling it a refugee policy is a gross exaggeration especially in the light of stringent criteria that asylum seekers must meet.