Call to end expat travel bans in Bahrain

A human rights group wants to launch an investigation into the travel bans given to expats in Bahrain for simple disputes with their banks.

The Gulf European Centre for Human Rights (GECHR) says it is "asking serious questions" about international banks that use such travel bans to stop foreigners leaving the country.
Faisal Fulad, director general of GECHR, said: "It is very concerning that any customer, who has a loan or a credit card with a bank in Bahrain, is at risk of being travel banned for non-payment, regardless of whether they have extenuating circumstances or not."
Under Bahraini law it allows creditors, such as banks and credit card companies, to apply to the civil courts for a travel ban to stop residents leaving the Gulf kingdom unless they repay outstanding loans.
There have been cases of expats arriving at airports to find they are unable to board flights as a travel ban has been imposed on them by their bank for a dispute they know nothing about.
Questions have been raised as to whether this practice is in compliance with the International Code of Banking Practice. Mr Fulad added: "We believe this is a violation of human rights treaties signed by Bahrain, and does not comply with banking regulations, seriously jeopardising Bahrain as centre of excellence for the banking industry."
Bahraini law also allows travel bans against individuals in non-debt-related cases, such as those involving any lawsuit or a legal judgement.
One expat working in Bahrain said: "It is aimed at stopping people leaving the country owing huge debts but it can have the opposite effect. It can actually stop people from working, particularly those that need to travel as part of their job, and prevent them from paying their debts off.
"I've also heard cases of people being banned from travelling for very little debts with no recourse to complain."
Another action group, the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS), is highlighting the case of about 4,000 travel ban victims to the United Nations.
The Gulf kingdom has come under pressure to improve its rights record after it imposed martial law in March last year and called in troops to quell weeks of unrest amid mass pro-reform demonstrations.
Hostilities flared up last week ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, with calls for it to be cancelled.