The 31 Bahraini citizens, who landed in Doha on March 27, were unable to continue their journey home, as Bahrain does not allow direct flights to and from Doha since it joined two other Gulf states in imposing a blockade against Qatar in 2017.
A statement from Qatar’s Government Communications Office (GCO) on Saturday said Doha had offered to fly the Bahraini citizens on a private charter flight to Bahrain “at no expense to the individuals or the government of Bahrain”. But Manama rejected the offer and said it would send a flight at some point in the future.
The statement said that while Qatar affirmed, “its constant readiness to play its humanitarian role in light of this global crisis, it regrets the allegations made by Bahrain, regarding the politicisation of the humanitarian situation of its citizens”.
Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar in June 2017, closing land, air and sea links and accusing Doha of supporting “terrorism”. Doha denies the charges and says the boycott impinges on its sovereignty.
Several Bahraini accounts on Twitter used the hashtag in Arabic #Bring_back_the_stranded_Bahrainis and expressed support for Qatar’s efforts. One such user, tweeting under the name Rehab, posted a screenshot of the statement by Qatar’s communication office with the caption “When the neighbouring countries are more sympathetic than your own”.
Another user lauded Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s role in a short poem:
“When the neighbour closed its doors in front of its own citizens,
He (Sheikh Tamim) hosted them in his country,
And rose above his opponents high, soaring with morals
May God protect and bless him.”
The communications office in Bahrain said Qatari authorities should stop “interfering” by suggesting commercial flights that “lack health regulations”, as this exposes travellers, aircraft crew and airport staff to coronavirus.
It added that since the spread of the coronavirus, Bahrain has started to evacuate its citizens, who wished to return, through direct flights in accordance with the precautionary measures.
The office confirmed that a flight had been arranged on Sunday to evacuate Bahrain’s stranded citizens from Doha after they had spent two days in the country.
According to Qatar’s GCO, the 31 Bahraini citizens were to be provided with healthcare if needed, and accommodation for the duration of their stay, at “no expense to them”.
Hundreds of other Bahraini citizens – mainly religious pilgrims – had been stranded in Iran, Reuters news agency reported on March 19.
Many Bahrainis go to Iran to visit Shia holy cities such as Mashhad and Qom, where the coronavirus outbreak in Iran began.
Bahrain, where the Shia comprise a majority of the population, has no restrictions on travel to Iran, unlike its neighbour and ally, Saudi Arabia.
The move to repatriate citizens back to Bahrain came after the Gulf country accused Iran of “biological aggression” by covering up the spread of the coronavirus and failing to stamp the passports of Bahraini travellers, an allegation Tehran denied.
It also came weeks after the Bahraini parliament voted to stop the return of citizens infected with the virus from Iran and other affected countries until they are fully recovered.
“We call on the government to postpone the return of citizens from affected countries while providing them with housing and healthcare … in the respective countries they’re in,” the motion, passed on February 25, read.
“We also call for a halt on travel to the countries where the virus is prominent, while stressing the need to coordinate with the Gulf Cooperation Council to apply such a procedure to ensure the safety of their citizens,” it added.
Bahrain and Iran have long-standing differences. Manama accuses Tehran of backing Shia-led opposition in the island state, which is ruled by a Sunni Muslim royal family – a charge Iran denies.
Bahrain has reported 515 cases of coronavirus and four deaths. Qatar has confirmed 693 infections and one death.
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