The deadline for Qataris to leave neighbouring Gulf Arab states has come into effect as the diplomatic stand-off persists with no end in sight despite multiple efforts at mediation.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar on June 5 and announced that Qatari residents would have 14 days to leave.
They also urged their own citizens in Qatar to leave and threatened imprisonment and fines for anyone who criticises the measures.
Officials later clarified there would be exceptions for mixed-nationality families in the Gulf, where tribes span across national borders.
Saudi Arabia also said it would not bar Qataris wanting to perform the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Rights group Amnesty International said, however, such measures are “clearly insufficient to address the human rights impact of the arbitrary, blanket measures”.
Prior to the diplomatic row, Qatari nationals could travel visa-free between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. Qatar has said it has no plans to expel Gulf nationals residing there.
The United Nations human rights chief last week criticised the expulsion of Qataris, saying people risk losing access to their homes and jobs, and students cannot sit exams.
The three Gulf states, as well as Egypt, are outraged by Qatar’s support for Islamist groups and its ties with Iran. They have accused Qatar of backing terror groups, charges denied by Qatar, which says the allegations are politically motivated.
In addition to severing diplomatic ties, the Gulf states have blocked Qatar’s access to their airspace, shipping lanes and ports. They have also barred direct flights to Qatar’s capital, Doha.
Saudi Arabia sealed Qatar’s only land border, a key route for food imports.
Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al Thani, director of Qatar’s Government Communications Office, said in a statement that the blockade, now entering its third week, is tearing at the social fabric of the Gulf. Qatar said it has not yet received a list of demands from its neighbours.
“It is clear that the actions of the blockading nations have little to do with addressing legitimate grievances and everything to do with attacking Qatar’s image and reputation,” he said.