DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The deadline for Qataris to leave neighboring Gulf Arab states came into effect on Monday as the diplomatic standoff persisted 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 criticizes 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 criticized the expulsion of Qataris, saying people risk losing access to their homes and jobs, and students cannot sit for 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 says it has not yet received a list of demands from its neighbors.
"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.
Media across much of the Gulf has been critical of Qatar over the past month, carrying articles alleging it has conspired with dissidents to destabilize neighboring governments. The three Gulf states and Egypt blocked access to Qatar's Al-Jazeera satellite news channel and other Qatari news websites.
On Monday, the state-run Qatar News Agency instructed a law firm to file a formal complaint with Ofcom, Britain's telecommunications regulator, against the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel and Sky News Arabia for their coverage of Qatar.
The British law firm, Carter-Ruck, added that it will be raising concerns regarding Sky's Abu Dhabi-based subsidiary, Sky News Arabia, as Ofcom considers a proposed multibillion dollar merger between Sky and 21st Century Fox.
Also Monday, EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini called for a de-escalation of the crisis.
"The region is already fragile enough, dangerous enough. We are starting to see dangerous spillovers already both in the broader region but also in Africa and in Asia, there are worrying signals," she said in Luxembourg.