By Claire Ferris-Lay
HRW says foreign workers with debts should be allowed to repay creditors from overseas
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”.
This is a common practice all over the Gulf countries , and the reason is lack of proper commercial, trading ,insolvency and bankruptcy laws .
The concept of how to handle expatriates in the gulf need to be seriously developed and evolve , in-spite the fact that expatriates are considered temporary workers, most of the gulf countries extend financial loans and facilities to them ( for different reasons) without proper securities other than holding passports and banning them from leaving the countries , and indirectly once they fall in the debt trap they turn them into slaves, fighting for their lives and freedom which become impossible to get back .
These practice need to be seriously changed before the Arab Spring reach the gulf countries , otherwise it will be additional burden that will surface and impose further demand for the long waited democracy and freedom or it might turn into much more sophisticated issues such as claiming other legal rights .
I hope HRW will come to uae and see how banks are treating debtors like thieves even for few thousands they make your life miserable. For 1900 dhs payment delay of one week, I got more than 80 calls plus calling my friends , office etc...
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. This is nothing. a travel ban on individuals who are plaintiff in law suits against companies who default payment and unlawfully terminate contracts, is unreasonable. Despite getting a favorable decision the case in two courts, and having put recovery process in the Execution court, there is a lot of delay in getting the money. On top of this a travel ban is imposed, on a plaintiff who won the case. This is really unacceptable.