Arab countries’ action may hit Nepali migrants

Kathmandu, June 5

Nepali migrant workers may have to bear the brunt of diplomatic rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia-led alliance of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt as major airlines have suspended travel to and from Qatar.

Gulf carriers operating regular flights to and from Kathmandu, with connecting flights to Qatar like Etihad Airways, Emirates, flyDubai, and Air Arabia have announced suspension of flights to Qatar ‘until further notice’.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted that the government had asked Nepali missions in the Gulf region to assess the situation and report to the ministry.

While there were no official figures of the number of Nepalis affected due to this decision, Qatar is one of the most preferred labour destinations for Nepali migrants. Over 10,000 Nepalis had received new labour permit to work in Qatar in the month between mid-December 2016 and mid-January 2017, according to the Department of Foreign Employment website.

The airlines have been ‘preparing to manage alternatives or refund tickets to the passengers who purchased tickets on or before Monday’, according to the airlines representatives here.

Several researches related to migrant workers in Nepal have put the figures of Nepalis flying to Qatar at around 1,400 per day. This number includes both new workers as well as returnees.

While government officials only said they were ‘closely monitoring’ how the situation panned out, Ganesh Gurung, a labour market expert, warned of possible repercussions for Nepal due to the negative impact on the Qatari economy. This is because Nepal has become increasingly dependent on remittances. The latest data of Nepal Rastra Bank shows the share of remittance is nearly 25 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. “Hence, any adverse effect on the economy of Qatar could have direct impact on the remittance flow from the country and affect Nepal’s economy as well.” Around five lakh Nepalis are employed in Qatar, most of them involved in the construction sector. Labour demand is rising in Qatar, along with the booming construction sector, as it prepares to host the World Cup in 2022.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar has expressed deep regret over the decision of Saudi Arabia-led alliance to close their borders and airspace and cut off diplomatic relations.

“Such measures are unjustified and are based on baseless allegations,” the statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar stated.