Bahrain urged to lift travel bans on expat debtors

HRW says foreign workers with debts should be allowed to repay creditors from overseas
Bahrain urged to lift travel bans on expat debtors
HRW said hundreds of low-wage workers had been banned from leaving Bahrain [Image for illustrative purposes only]
By Claire Ferris-Lay
Wed 18 Jan 2012 03:52 PM

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based activist group, has urged Bahrain to allow foreign workers with outstanding debts to leave the country and repay their creditors from abroad.

The rights group on Wednesday claimed dozens of foreign residents in the Gulf state had been barred both from working to pay off their loans, and from leaving the country.  

 “Bahrain’s punitive practice of preventing foreign debtors from leaving or from working in Bahrain to repay the debts makes no sense and causes severe hardship,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Simultaneously denying exit permits and work permits prevents these people from affording basic necessities, never mind repaying their debts.”

Bahraini law allows creditors to apply to civil courts for travel bans to prevent residents leaving the country unless they repay outstanding personal or business loans.

The law also allows travel bans against individuals in non-debt-related cases, including cases in which they face a lawsuit or a legal judgment.

Bahrain has come under pressure to improve its rights record after it imposed martial law in March and called in Gulf troops to quell weeks of unrest amid mass pro-reform demonstrations.

The country’s sweeping crackdown on the demonstrators drew criticism internationally and from the state-sponsored Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which found detainees were systematically abused and in some cases tortured to death.

The events in Bahrain have posed a policy challenge for US and western countries that value the country as an ally in countering Iranian influence but also want to be seen as backing democracy.

HRW said it had not yet received a response to an Aug 1 letter to the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, expressing its concerns over the situation imposed on foreign residents indebted to Bahraini-based creditors.

“The Bahraini government should ensure that financial disputes between parties are resolved in a way that protects the rights of debtors as well as creditors, and ensure that people are not put in this impossible position,” said Stork.

“Authorities should ensure that debtors can earn money to afford basic necessities and pay off their debts.”

The group said highlighted the case of seven cases and said it understands “that several hundred low-wage migrant workers, primarily from South and Southeast Asia, have also been barred from leaving Bahrain because of non-debt related disputes with their employers”.

For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.