Five Bahrainis Die in Iran While Over 1500 Remain Stranded, as Government Bungles Return Efforts Amid Coronavirus Crisis

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19 March 2020 – At least five of the more than 1500 Bahrainis thought to be trapped in Iran have died since the beginning of March, as Bahrain’s government faces rising criticism for repeated failed attempts to bring home citizens stranded by disruptions to air travel caused by Coronavirus.  Bahrain has no diplomatic relationship with Iran and airlines do not usually fly directly between the two countries.

The Iranian government has struggled for several weeks to contain one of the world’s most severe outbreaks of Coronavirus, which has caused 1335 deaths amid 17,361 confirmed cases.  Last Thursday, Bahrain’s government accused Iran of “biological aggression” for allegedly concealing the extent of the outbreak and failing to stamp Bahraini travellers’ passports, after Bahrain’s parliament, which has no legislative power or opposition representation, controversially voted not to return the stranded Bahrainis until they were cleared of the virus.

However, Bahrain has faced rising domestic criticism for its failure to arrange the safe return of Bahraini citizens stranded in Iran, estimated to number between 1500 and 1700 individuals according to local activists. 

Brendan O’Hara, Chair of the APPG on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf and an SNP Shadow Minister, has appealed to the British government to help to mediate the crisis, after being contacted by a British-Bahraini dual national whose father is among those trapped in Iran.

On 10 March, Bahrain’s Ministry of Health announced the arrival of the first flight from Iran carrying 165 Bahrainis, of whom at least  77 were infected with Coronavirus. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are currently 242 confirmed cases from which Bahrain’s Minister of Health has stated 100 individuals have recovered. One individual, a 65 year old woman, has died in Bahrain from the virus.

Human rights activists have accused the government of irresponsibility after healthy and infected individuals were reportedly allowed onto the same flight and three subsequent attempts by the government to bring citizens were reported to have been abruptly cancelled. Last night, the Ministry of Health announced that a flight scheduled to depart today had been cancelled by the airline.

Distraught Bahrainis have also reported that their hotels in Iran have arbitrarily evicted guests as they begin to close to combat the spread of the virus. The Arabic hashtag #أعيدوا_العالقين_البحرينيين, or “Bring back the stranded Bahrainis” has been seen trending on Twitter for several days. 

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, commented: “It is tragic to see the death toll climb to five among the Bahrainis trapped in Iran, with little effort by the Bahraini authorities to bring their citizens home.

While the government has cynically exploited the pandemic to stoke regional tensions, over 1000 Bahrainis in Iran have been effectively abandoned, putting their lives at considerable risk. Bahrain must do whatever it takes to secure their safe return.”

Brendan O’Hara, Chair of the APPG on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf and Shadow SNP Spokesperson for International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, commented: “As the worldwide Covid-19 crisis deepens, it is extremely worrying that there are still currently more than 1,300 Bahraini citizens trapped in Iran; a country where five Bahrainis have already died while being unable to return home. 

There appears to be a serious lack of effort to repatriate those stranded, amongst whom are relatives of British nationals who are, understandably, extremely worried about their families. 

In the face of this worldwide pandemic, it is essential that Iran, Bahrain and the UK set aside and rise above their political squabbles and work together in order to secure the safety and security of all their citizens.”

 

TIMELINE OF THE CRISIS:

  • 5 March:
    • 62 year old Bahraini Hasan Mansoor Hasan becomes first Bahraini to die in Iran since the crisis began.
  • 6 March: 
    • King Hamed instructs Shi’a Jafari Endowments to pay the expenses of Bahrainis trapped in Iran.
  • 8 March:
    • Bahrain’s Parliament votes not to return stranded citizens from Iran.
  • 10 March:
    • 54 year old Bahraini Moosa Abduljabar Al Khoohaji dies in Iran, according to local news.
    • Bahraini press announces the commencement of payments to citizens stranded in Iran from the Jafari Endowments.
    • Bahrain’s Minister of Health announces the arrival of 165 citizens from Iran on a Salam Air flight organised by the Ministry of Health.
  • 11 March:
    • Minister of Health announces that 77 of the 165 individuals returned the previous day have been found to be infected with the Coronavirus.
    • Minister of Health announces the next flight will commence on Thursday 12 March.
  • 12 March: 
    • Scheduled return flight fails to materialise, without any justification from Bahrain’s government.
  • 17 March: 
    • Second flight promised to stranded families also fails to materialise.
  • 16 March:
    • 62 year old Sayed Hameed Mustafa dies in Iran, according to reports from activist Ebtisam Al Saegh.
  • 18 March:
    • Ministry of Health announces that third flight scheduled for 19 March has been cancelled by the airline.
  • 23 March:
    • Ministry of Health announces that fourth flight scheduled for 23 March has been cancelled due to ‘logistical reasons’ by the company contracted to organise the trip.
  • 25 March:
    • Ministry of Health announces that the second group of Bahrainis trapped in Iran returned on the night of 25 March on the Iranian Kish Airline. It has been reported that 63 passengers were on the flight, 33 of whom were infected with the virus.
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