Expatriates remain unruffled | Sunday Observer

Expatriates remain unruffled

Despite the deepening diplomatic row in the Gulf region, the Foreign Ministry maintained there is no imminent danger compelling an evacuation of Sri Lankan expatriate workers in Qatar.

The consular division confirmed, so far no Sri Lankan expatriate worker, out of the 150,000 employed in the gas rich state, has expressed a desire to return home due to the current crisis.

“Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world. There is no risk of a war situation in the country at the moment, and Sri Lankans doing jobs here are safe,” Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Qatar, A.S.P. Liyanage told the Sunday Observer via phone, on Friday.

Most Sri Lankan expatriate workers in Qatar are skilled professionals doing high end jobs such as Quantity Surveyors, Engineers and Chartered Accountants drawing impressive seven digit salaries as high as Rs.1.5 million. The population of unskilled female housemaids who might require state intervention to come back to Sri Lanka, account for a very small proportion, according to the Sri Lankan mission.

The Ambassador said, other than the fear of food scarcity due to the closure of Saudi border, the only land border it shares with the mainland, people in the Capital Doha go about their business as usual.

“Sri Lankans are well respected here, there is no job insecurity and if anyone needs to get back to Sri Lanka, they can do so since SriLankan airlines and Qatar airways are operating as usual,” he said, adding that the mission will assist anyone needing help.

Ambassador Liyanage said, in case of an escalation of the current situation, which they highly doubt, the Sri Lankan government has discussed a contingency plan. “President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake and Foreign Employment Minister Thalatha Athukorala are aware of this situation,” he added.

Shortly after the news broke out that there was a diplomatic offensive on Qatar, isolating it from land, sea and air routes, the people were seen rushing to supermarkets to stock up groceries in fear of a food scarcity.

But, international media reported that Kuwait, Iran and Oman have offered to intervene in such a calamity to assist its tiny neighbour. Turkey has promised to deploy its troops to Qatar while Oman is poised to send in shipments of goods to overcome trade restrictions, until the standoff ends.

A Sri Lankan Human Resources Manager currently employed in a Food Service company in Doha said, he is not worried about the evolving situation. “The diplomatic crisis has not penetrated into the daily lives of the citizens, and hence, expatriate workers are not overly concerned,” he said, adding however that they too rushed to super markets as soon as the news broke out that Saudi Arabia and several countries were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar.

In what seemed like a coordinated diplomatic move, Bahrain announced on Monday that it was severing diplomatic ties with Qatar for allegedly ‘supporting terrorists and stoking conflicts’. This action was followed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE within minutes. Hours later Egypt, Yemen and Libya too announced the breaking of diplomatic ties with Qatar. The Maldives became the seventh nation to toe the line.

Foreign Employment Minister Thalatha Athukorala said, the situation in Qatar is a regional issue and therefore, it will not affect expatriate workers. “There are about 1.5 million expatriate workers in Qatar, in addition to over 140,000 Sri Lankans,“she said.

The Foreign Ministry’s Public Communications Division Acting Director General, Sathya Rodrigo said, Sri Lanka’s mission in Doha has been asked to closely monitor the evolving situation, and so far, they don’t perceive any danger for the Lankans working and living in Qatar.

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Division said, the diplomatic mediation to settle the issue in the Gulf region has begun, hence they don’t perceive any reason to be alarmed. “Certainly, there is a backup plan but we don’t expect any imminent problem,” he added.

Head of Middle East and Africa Division, Grace Ashirwadan confirmed that the Ministry is closely watching the situation in the Gulf region.

“Other than a flight connection issue, there is no security threat for expatriate workers,” she said. Qatar, with the second largest Gulf airport in Doha (Hamad International) is an aviation hub connecting the East and the West.

After the move by seven states to diplomatically isolate Qatar, Saudi Arabia which shares the only land border with Qatar, ordered a land, air and sea ban while calling Qatari citizens to immediately leave Saudi Arabia and revoked the licence of Qatar Airways.

Qatar, a country which is slightly over 11,500 sq km, has an expatriate population bigger than its local population, with 25%, Indians accounting for the largest proportion.

The country is planning to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and is driven by a grand development plan in line with that, including glitzy soccer stadiums and a Doha metro.

SriLankan Airlines spokesperson Deepal Perera said, for their company it’s business as usual. “The Ramazan period is considered our peak time for reservations to the Middle East. Generally, around this time we get more bookings to all the countries in the region including Saudi Arabia, but we did not notice any extraordinary rush from Qatar to Sri Lanka in view of the current situation,” he said, adding that they have not decided to increase the number of flights to Qatar as a consequence of the evolving situation. At present, SriLankan operates one flight to Doha every day and Qatar Airways operates three flights per day.

Sri Lanka’s head of mission in Doha, Liyanage said he can be reached any time via his mobile number +97455564936 for queries on the situation.