Thousands of Qataris of the Al Ghafran clan of the Al Murrah tribe who lost their citizenship were forced to seek refuge with relatives in Saudi Arabia's eastern Al Ahsa region.

They were stripped of their Qatari nationality by government decree. The tribesmen claimed that they have been living in Qatar for 70 years.

The tribesmen also claimed that the decision to revoke their citizenship was linked to the dismissal of the former Minister of Interior, Hamad Bin Nasser Al Thani, who is said to have "facilitated" citizenship and special passports for a large number of Al Murrah tribesmen, causing concern in Qatar and abroad.

Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Merri, who lost his Qatari nationality and moved to Saudi Arabia, said the Qatari Government justified the decision taken last October on the basis of claims that the tribe hails from Saudi Arabia and that its members still hold Saudi citizenship.

"A large number of Al Ghafran tribesmen are in a desperate situation after the Qatari Government stopped paying them salaries. Even the charity and zakat funds are denied them," he told Gulf News.

According to sources, 5,000 to 6,000 members of the Al Ghafran clan have lost their citizenship following the decree.

Al Merri, who is staying in the eastern Saudi city of Al Hafof, described the decision as "unfair" and said it was related to a 1995 coup attempt in which some members of the tribe took part.

"The Al Murrah consider the decision "unfair" and call for immediate intervention because many of those arrested by the Qatari authorities in connection with the coup attempt belong to other tribes," he said.

He said the decision was arbitrary and tribesmen who have lost citizenship included dead persons as well as children, widows and the elderly, which is in violation of the Qatari citizenship law of 1961. He said many Qataris belonging to other tribes still retain Saudi nationality.

The law states that a Qatari will lose his citizenship if he commits a major crime.

"It applies only to the person who committed the crime, not the entire family or tribe," he said.

A Saudi newspaper reported that a man was expelled for criticising the Qatari media, especially Al Jazeera news channel, for ignoring the problem.

Columnist Qenan Al Gamdi, who writes in Al Watan newspaper, noted that thousands of stateless people continue to live in the Gulf region, especially in Kuwait, and described their plight as "catastrophic".

He called on the United Nations to intervene to solve the problem.

Tribesmen deprived of basic amenities

The number of Al Murrah tribesmen who were stripped of their Qatari nationality is 5,226, according to an Arabic newspaper.

"The ministry of Interior has also sent a list of their names to other ministries and has asked to suspend them from work," Al Hayat said. It claimed that it possesses the list of names.

"The Qatari government has asked the tribesmen to vacate their houses and has cut water and electricity," the newspaper said.

The Qatari government also decided to suspend other services and benefits, including education and health facilities to them, the newspaper added.