Diplomats deny travel ban accusations in Bahrain
Manama, February 10, 2014
Diplomats have denied accusations they are not doing enough to help their nationals allegedly living as destitutes in Bahrain.
Thousands of people of a variety of nationalities are thought to be stranded with bans on their passports due to debt, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
It means they often have problems finding a new job as they can only work within Bahrain and sometimes new employers cannot secure them a work visa.
At least 15 Britons are understood to be stranded here as a result of the controversial practice.
Travel ban campaigner Val Brown said she was "appalled" by what she described as the "lack of action."
"I can't believe they are allowing nationals to be homeless and in some cases starving, unable to get work and banned from returning home," she said.
"It is so shocking.
"They cannot leave these people in this destitute state.
"I think there are a lot of people starting to ask questions and wanting to know exactly what is being done to help these people.
"Is the British government even aware of what is going on?
At a recent meeting to discuss the building of an expatriate shelter, representatives from the British Embassy told the GDN they had been helping a Briton in his 80s who had been stranded in Bahrain for several years because of a travel ban.
But a spokeswoman yesterday said officials were working behind the scenes to help the scores of travel ban victims living in Bahrain.
"British Ambassador Iain Lindsay regularly raises the issue of travel bans with the Bahraini authorities and lobbied successfully for the concession to enable those under travel bans to work legally," he said.
"However, the embassy is unable to raise funds to assist those affected by a ban.
"Full details of what assistance British Embassies and Consulates are able to give to British nationals can be found through the 'Know Before You go Campaign' and our travel advice pages."
Speaking shortly after taking office in 2011, Lindsay pledged to help resolve the plight of people stranded in Bahrain because of travel bans.
At the time, he said the embassy was helping around 15 Britons with travel bans.
Lindsay said his main concern was not the travel ban itself, but the fact that victims were unable to renew their residency permit as a result and therefore could not obtain a work visa.
This leaves the victims unable to pay off their debts or earn a basic living while stranded here.
The GDN reported last November that a 49-year-old Briton had been stuck in Bahrain on a travel ban for more than five years for a debt to American Express of around BD6,000 ($15,906).
He was desperate to return home to the UK to see his terminally ill father, but was living hand-to-mouth with fishermen collecting tin cans from the streets and beaches for money.
Another man, who claimed his former employer owed him more than BD40,000 in unpaid wages, said he has been sleeping rough and was forced to steal food from supermarkets because of his ban.
He also owed around BD6,000 after accumulating credit card debts to pay his rent.
Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS) secretary-general Faisal Fulad said many embassies were reluctant to get involved in travel ban cases because they were too "political".
"They would prefer to keep a low-profile," he said.
The government last year announced 720 people in Bahrain had travel bans, however, Fulad believes the number is much higher.
"The BHRWS believes there are between 4,000 to 5,000 people in Bahrain with travel bans," he said.
"Year by year this is just going to get worse for Bahrain and it is against human rights."
He also wants action against the "credit card mafia" of loan companies, banks and credit card companies who encourage people to get into debt. - TradeArabia News Service