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Life in the blockaded Qatar

Life | 2017/07/03 at 7:00 PM | 139 Views

Every day when Sheikh Abubakkar calls home in southern India, he tries to reassure his worried mother that his work is going on as usual in the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Abubakkar, 26, moved to Dubai in 2015 to work as a customer care agent for a courier service. In February this year, his company transferred him to Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Mr. Abubakkar returned to Dubai in June to process his residence visa for Qatar and was getting ready to fly back to Doha when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and a few other Arab countries cut diplomatic ties as well as land, sea and air links with Qatar.

“Many of my colleagues are also stuck in a similar position as no visas to Qatar are being processed here, but thankfully, my work has not been affected,” said Mr. Abubakkar.

Nearly 650,000 Indians are working in Qatar, which has a population of roughly 2.7 million.

Only 12% of its population are native Qataris, while Indians constitute the largest group living in this tiny gas-rich nation. If one goes by sheer numbers, Indians will be the hardest hit by this diplomatic stand-off.


Rising prices

International human rights groups have expressed concern over the impact of Qatar’s “blockade” on its migrant worker population. Adam Coogle is a West Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and was recently in Doha assessing the impact of the diplomatic crisis on its migrant workers. He explained that none of the workers he interviewed were worried about the general situation but they have complained about the increase in food prices.

“The prices of basic items like tomatoes, potatoes and onions have gone up,” Mr. Coogle told this writer. “A labourer who was spending nearly 200-250 Qatari riyals on food every month has to now spend between 300-350 riyals, a significant rise for people whose monthly income is about 900 riyals.” Contrary to the initial reports of food shortages, Qatar has filled the void by flying in supplies, mostly from Turkey, Iran and India. Food is readily available but the local options of fruit and vegetables from the neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Lebanon have been replaced with the pricier versions from Holland, Australia, Thailand and Malaysia.

“In supermarkets, it is like a flash sale where the fruit and vegetables are gone even before they are put on the rack,” said one local resident. “I found only the expensive tomatoes from Holland at my grocery store and something basic like coriander leaves are missing from the market or cost 7 riyals a bunch.” Most labour accommodations are scattered far away from the city and many workers depend on smaller grocery stores for basic needs. Such stores, they say, are taking advantage of the crisis and increasing prices. In order to crack down on such practices, Qatar’s Ministry of Economy and Commerce is encouraging residents to report businesses that are over-pricing supplies via social media.

The ramifications of the embargo may sweep into other industries such as construction, as the country prepares to host the FIFA World Cup 2022.

“A lot of the construction material was brought in through these borders and due to the current crisis, it may create a lag with the ongoing construction projects which will no doubt affect the workers,” said Vani Saraswathi, associate editor at Migrant-Rights.org, an advocacy organisation that aims to advance the rights of migrant workers in West Asia.

“A delay in materials means there is delay in work, and we have seen subcontractors especially don’t have the financial wherewithal to bide over such contingencies. This could mean workers being left unpaid, or not paid in time.”


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