Qatar enacts first Gulf asylum law

The Emir of Qatar signed in September the first Gulf law setting out the procedures and conditions for seeking asylum in the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

The law demonstrates Qatar's commitment to refugee rights and sets an example for the region. But it does not meet Qatar's international obligations, particularly regarding its restrictions on freedom of movement and expression.

Lama Faqih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the asylum law in Qatar represents a major step forward in a rich region that has historically closed its doors to refugees.

But Qatar should go further and amend the law to fully comply with its obligations under international human rights and refugee law.

Qatar passed Law No. 11/2019 regulating political asylum on September 4, 2019, along with two other laws regulating residency in the country.

One revoked the exit permit for most migrant workers, and the other allowed people for the first time to apply for permanent residence. Both laws show Qatar's improved respect for international standards, but, as with the new asylum law, they are not fully compatible with international human rights law.

Article 1 of the new asylum law in Qatar refers to a refugee as a “political refugee”, describing him as “any person outside his or her country of nationality, or the country of his permanent residence if he is stateless, and cannot or does not wish to return because of A well-founded fear of being sentenced to death or corporal punishment, torture, cruel or degrading treatment or persecution because of his race, religion, membership of a particular social group or political views.

Article 15 of the law prohibits the return of a refugee to “his or her country, or to any other country where he or she is at risk of being at risk or persecution.”

Article 9 grants recognized refugees the right to obtain a travel document for work, unemployment benefits, worship or litigation. They are also entitled to government health care, education and housing services.

Although Article 9 grants refugees the right to freedom of movement, Article 10 requires refugees to obtain consent if they wish to move from their place of residence specified by the government, unlike other permanent and legal residents.

Article 11 prohibits recognized asylum seekers and refugees from political activity during their stay in Qatar, and allows the Minister of Interior to deport them to a country of their choice if they do so.

These articles violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a fundamental human rights treaty to which Qatar has recently acceded.

The Covenant guarantees the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association for all. Everyone legally present in the territory of a State shall be given the right to freedom of movement and residence.

Although the law explicitly stipulates that no person should be returned to a place where he or she has a well-founded fear of execution, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, it imposes an association with a particular ethnicity, religion, social group or political belief, other than international law.

Qatar has ratified the UN Convention against Torture, which prohibits the forcible return of those who are in real danger of being subjected to torture without exception. Qatar should amend the asylum law to clarify the prohibition of return in all cases to a country where torture and inhuman and degrading treatment are practiced.

Article 6 stipulates that the Minister of Interior may grant an asylum seeker a temporary residence permit for a period of three months, renewable for a similar period or periods until his application is decided.

However, the law does not clarify whether the holder of the temporary residence permit is allowed to work or is eligible to benefit from the same social benefits as holders of permanent residence permits. Qatar should extend these benefits to holders of temporary residence permits.

Article 7 also stipulates that the Minister of the Interior shall issue a decision on the application for asylum within three months from the recommendation of the Committee for Political Refugees Affairs.

3 months is a short period of time, especially if not responding means rejection. As long as the applicant is not represented during the asylum procedure, the law must include an implied refusal because the applicant's status cannot be determined.