Nepali migrant workers have not been affected by diplomatic crisis in Qatar

The diplomatic row in Qatar — one of the most preferred labour destinations of Nepali migrant workers — has been a wake-up call for Nepal, as the country has long been reliant on remittances to make its foreign exchange reserve robust. Fate of the migrant workers in Qatar depends on how early the small Gulf country resolves the issues with neighbouring Saudi Arabia and its allies. Pushpa Raj Acharya and Sujan Dhungana of The Himalayan Times, spoke to Ganesh Gurung, a labour market expert, and Mohan Adhikari, director and spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Employment, to learn how Qatar’s diplomatic crisis affects Nepal and what the government is doing to cope with possible challenges. Excerpts:

Nepali migrant workers have not been affected by diplomatic crisis in Qatar

Mohan Adhikari, director and spokesperson, Department of Foreign employment

What is the government doing to assure that Nepali migrants in Qatar are not affected due to the recent diplomatic crisis in the Gulf nation?

We’ve heard that some countries have started to withdraw their workers from Qatar following the diplomatic rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia-led alliance of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on Monday, and some have also temporarily restricted their citizens from going to Qatar. However, we haven’t received any complaints from Nepali workers in Qatar till date about any kind of problems surfacing after the diplomatic crisis. Our embassy in Qatar and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) are in close contact with Nepali workers there. In case the diplomatic rift affects Nepali workers, the government will take necessary policy decisions and we (Department of Foreign Employment) are ready to implement it. We have various rescue mechanisms in place to tackle the possible effects of the diplomatic rift in Qatar on Nepali migrant workers. However, we are optimistic that the crisis in Qatar will be resolved soon and it will not affect the migrant workers there.

Qatar is one of the major labour destinations for Nepali migrant workers. Do you think the recent crisis in Qatar will affect the sentiment of Nepali workers planning to go to the Gulf nation?

Qatar is undoubtedly one of the top preferred labour destinations for Nepalis, with more than 400,000 Nepali workers officially working there. But Nepali migrant workers have already started postponing their plans to travel to Qatar following the diplomatic crisis, which is evident in the decline in number of Nepalis taking work permit for Qatar since Monday. The number of Nepali migrants seeking work permit for Qatar has fallen to 200 to 300 per day against an average of 700 to 800 during normal times. However, as I mentioned already, there is nothing to worry about (based on  our latest update) for Nepali migrant workers in Qatar.

The government has not even issued an official notice after the rift targeting Nepali migrant workers in Qatar and those planning to take labour permit to work there. Isn’t an official statement from the government necessary to boost their morale?

We’ve been disseminating messages to Nepali migrant workers via different media that the labour market of Qatar has not been affected by the recent diplomatic crisis. If we had noticed any problem for Nepali migrant workers currently working in Qatar, we would have definitely issued a notice. But what if we issue a notice saying that things are fine in Qatar and encourage Nepali migrant workers to go there and then the situation worsens? Nonetheless, we will actively update Nepali migrant workers about the situation of labour market in Qatar through the media.

Do you see any possibilities of Nepali migrant workers changing their preference for other Arabian nations due to the Qatar diplomatic crisis?

Qatar, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are the top preferred labour destinations for Nepali migrants. But it’s too early to say that Nepali migrant workers planning to go to Qatar will change their plans abruptly. But, if the crisis in Qatar is not resolved soon, Nepali workers will certainly opt for other Arabian countries over Qatar. If the crisis in Qatar prolongs, it will not only reduce the number of Nepali workers flying to Qatar, but will also affect the economy of Nepal in the long-run. This is because the decline in the number of Nepali migrant workers going to Qatar will impact the inflow of remittance from the Gulf nation.

We have already witnessed some impact of rift among Gulf nations

Ganesh Gurung, labour market expert

What will be the impact of Qatar’s diplomatic crisis on Nepal?

Nepali ambassador to Qatar had immediately issued a press statement stating that there won’t be any immediate impact of Qatar’s diplomatic crisis on Nepali migrant workers. However, we’ve started witnessing some of the impacts. Nepali migrant workers who had received cheaper air tickets of budget airlines of United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and others from their recruitment companies in Qatar have been facing difficulties as the airlines of aforesaid Arab nations have suspended flights to Doha. On the other hand, as Saudi Arabia is connected with Qatar via land, many Nepalis working in Qatar used to supply goods from Saudi to Qatar as truck and lorry drivers, and helpers have been stranded at Saudi border since the diplomatic crisis started. Qatar was importing construction materials and food from Saudi Arabia, and the supply has been affected. This may affect the construction works in Qatar, where a large number of Nepalis are engaged. And there are also chances of food prices shooting through the roof due to the short-supply. This would increase the expenses of migrant workers and their savings will decline. Likewise, companies headquartered in Qatar that deployed migrant workers in various Arab countries with temporary visa are also facing challenges as the allies of Saudi Arabia — Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen, and the Maldives — decided to deport the people of Qatari origin. This means they will lose their jobs and return to the country. Various international media have reported about possibilities of Qatari riyal’s depreciation if the situation prolongs.

Some countries like the Philippines have stopped deploying labour to Qatar. Do you think Nepal government should also take similar steps to ensure safety of its labourers?

The Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) has been issuing permits for migrant workers planning to go to work in Qatar. I don’t think the government should halt deploying labour to Qatar, but it should be cautious and proactive to deal with the situation, should the crisis there deepens. More importantly, foreign job aspirants should be properly

informed regarding the situation in Qatar. It is reported that many foreign employment agencies have been updating the job-seekers about the situation there. However, the government has not issued any official statement on the situation facing the migrant workers in Qatar. The government should seriously look into the situation of the migrant workers because many of them who are working in the construction sector may be facing difficulties. The Nepali embassy in Qatar should constantly monitor the situation and provide help to those in need.

Do you think there will be any significant impact on Nepali migrant workers in other Arab countries?

I don’t think there will be a significant impact because Nepal has been taking a very neutral stance and it has diplomatic ties with both the sides. However, crude oil prices may affect the employment opportunities in other countries too. If the crude oil prices plunge further, it may affect the job opportunities in all oil-exporting countries receiving labours from Nepal. If not, there won’t be a severe impact of diplomatic rift of Gulf nations on Nepal. Right now, Kuwait has been playing the role of a mediator to bring both the sides — Qatar and Saudi Arabia and allies — together for talks. Kuwait and Oman, as members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, could mediate the talks between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Qatar. As Qatar is the host country for 2022 FIFA World Cup, it is under pressure to resolve the crisis as soon as possible. Slowdown in construction of stadium and other preparatory works may affect Qatar’s plan to be the host country for 2022 FIFA World Cup, which is possible if the diplomatic crisis deepens.