The Australian embassy in Qatar isn’t doing enough to help a citizen get home, claims a prominent human rights organization.
Aussie national Joseph Sarlak, 69, has been stuck in the tiny Gulf nation ever since 2016 when he faced court there over embezzlement charges. He was made a scapegoat though, according to Detained in Dubai, a renowned UAE civil and legal rights advocate.
According to the organisation and its founder, it was Sarlak’s local business partner who depleted the company accounts while cheques to suppliers were pending. The cheques bounced despite every effort being made by the Australian to arrange the funds. He subsequently went to jail.
Qatar issued separate sentences for each individual cheque. Sarlak faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a Qatari prison.
Then last year Sarlak was acquitted on all charges, and he and his family had every expectation that they would be together again soon enough. However, just as he was preparing to be deported back to Australia he found his departure was blocked. The reason: a travel ban imposed on him over the case had not been rescinded, even though he had been acquitted.
Joe Sarlak is still in Qatar; with his own health issues as well as a global pandemic to contend with.
In a statement, Detained in Dubai’s founder described Sarlak’s bureaucratic nightmare as ‘Kafkaesque’ and accused the Australian embassy in Qatar of being “woefully unhelpful” with their efforts to get him home.
“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,” said Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, who has been representing Sarlak from the beginning of his ordeal.
“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.”
According to Stirling, Sarlak has been the victim of bias and corruption she says is endemic to the legal system in Qatar, with the man who allegedly embezzled the money belonging to the tribe of the emirate’s ruling family. The Australian embassy in Qatar must do more to help its citizen, she says.
“It was nothing short of a miracle that Joe succeeded finally in court,” said Stirling.
“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.”