Australian Embassy taking care of business, not citizens.
Australian national Joseph Sarlak, 69, is not allowed to leave Qatar, and no one knows why. He has been stuck in the tiny Gulf nation ever since 2016 when he was made scapegoat for the embezzlement committed by his local business partner who depleted the company accounts while Joe had cheques pending to suppliers. Those cheques bounced despite Joe making every effort to arrange the funds, and Joe went to jail. He was facing the very real possibility that he would die in prison, as Qatar issued separate sentences for each individual cheque. Already elderly, he was looking at dozens of years behind bars. Last year, Joe was acquitted on all charges, however, and he and his family had every expectation that they would be together again soon.
Joe was slated for deportation, held in an immigration jail, and was all set to be sent back to Australia when, bizarrely, his deportation was blocked due to him having a travel ban. The ban, of course, was imposed due to the court cases -- the court cases that were then resolved -- how hard could it be to remove an obsolete travel ban? That was 2019, and Joe is still stuck in Qatar.
“The term ‘Kafkaesque’ barely begins to describe the bureaucratic nightmare Joe has been in since his acquittal,” says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, who has been representing Sarlak from the beginning, “In order to get the travel ban removed, he has to apply in court, then court clerks refer him to a website; the website requires a resident I.D., and obviously, Joe’s I.D. is expired; it is going round and round in circles and has been for months. Meanwhile, Joe suffers from heart disease, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and arthritis, and he is being sent from one office to another amidst a pandemic. The Australian embassy has been woefully unhelpful. Such slight intervention is needed from them to easily resolve this issue, a few calls to the Qatar Interior Ministry could get Joe on a plane home within a week; but there is just no interest or effort being made by Australia. Joe’s family has written to the Interior Ministry, as have we, and we have reached out to the Australian embassy several times. It is outrageous and absurd that the Australian government cannot muster the will to help an elderly citizen resolve a simple paperwork problem.”
Stirling says that it is remarkable Joseph Sarlak emerged from the court cases with an acquittal, given the endemic bias and corruption of the legal system in Qatar, “Joe’s business partner, the man who allegedly embezzled money from the company and later pointed the finger at Joe, is from the larger tribe of the ruling family, he has enormous clout. It was nothing short of a miracle that Joe succeeded finally in court. To have him continue to be prevented from leaving the country, despite his innocence and acquittal, while he does have a deportation order, is cruel farce and the Australian government needs to stand up for Joe and get him home sooner rather than later.”
Stirling explains that cases like Joe’s are not unusual in the Gulf, “In Qatar, we also have British national Jonathan Nash in a very similar case. He was scapegoated by local partners and imprisoned with an outlandishly long sentence for bounced company cheques. In the UAE, we have innumerable identical cases. It is very disappointing to see the passivity and timidity of Western governments in supporting their citizens suffering legal abuse in the Gulf. The Australian government has been aware of Joe’s situation from the beginning and very little has ever been done to help him; and now when just a little help is needed, just a little help resolving an absurd paperwork glitch, they are not even doing that.”