Gulf Crisis: Qatar jobs left in the lurch
Lingering diplomatic stand-off between Qatar and several Gulf countries would have an adverse impact on Bangladesh's labour market in Qatar, said experts and businesses.
They fear the new projects may not start if the crisis continues, which would affect fresh recruitment of workers from Bangladesh and elsewhere, they added.
"The crisis is a red alert for us," said Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, joint secretary general of Bangladesh Association of International Recruitment Agencies (BAIRA).
He said the ongoing construction projects, mostly for the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, might not shut down but the new projects might not take off.
"In that case, Qatar would not recruit new workers," he told this correspondent.
Gas-rich Qatar, home to nearly 4 lakh Bangladeshis, has been recruiting workers from Bangladesh without any interruption in the last several years for its construction projects for the World Cup.
The Guardian newspaper on June 8 reported that the prospect of Qatar hosting the World Cup has been plunged into serious doubt after its neighbours broke off diplomatic ties and blockaded its borders.
Fakhrul Basher Masum, who worked as an engineer for around two decades in Saudi Arabia, said there were many Saudi companies working in Qatar and Qatari companies in other Gulf countries.
Operations of these companies, where Bangladeshis work, would surely be hampered due to the crisis, he added.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 severed relations with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting extremism, including groups backed by Iran. This is the biggest diplomatic crisis to hit the region in years.
The states closed their air space, sea and border transports with Qatar, which relies heavily on imports from its neighbours.
Air travel between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Yemen has stopped, resulting in the cancellation of at least 50 daily flights, reported The National from Abu Dhabi on June 7.
The Gulf neighbours of Qatar also banned their citizens from travelling to Qatar and ordered Qatari citizens in their countries to leave within 14 days on June 5. These measures have already affected Qatar's stock exchange and currency. There has been panic buys amid fears of food shortages.
Mohammad Sabuj, a Bangladeshi working in Doha, said food prices have shot up since June 5 and that they were facing a difficult time.
"One kilogram of potato, onion or green chilli that was only 2 to 3 Qatari Riyals is now 10 to 14. Prices of all food items have gone up and availability is poor," he told this correspondent on Thursday.
Sabuj said in 2013, when he first went to Qatar, a litre of fuel was 0.45 QR but now it is 0.80 to 0.85 QR. Living cost has gone up in Qatar in the recent years and there were many jobless Bangladeshis or those not getting paid for work.
The crisis would affect Bangladeshi workers more as they pay Tk 4-5 lakh to go to Qatar for low-wage jobs, he added.
Serajul Islam, first secretary (labour) of Bangladesh embassy in Qatar, told The Daily Star over phone that the embassy has urged Bangladeshis not to panic.
"Qatar has stock of food. Besides, it is buying food from alternative sources," he told this correspondent. Qatar is a rich country and would do anything to keep its development projects going and ensure food supplies, he added.
ENTIRE GULF AFFECTED
Prof Rashed Uz Zaman of international relations at Dhaka University said the Middle East was going through wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which created refugee crisis and affected the region's economy and thereby the migrants.
The latest diplomatic row with Qatar and Wednesday's attack on Iran by the Islamic State has added a new dimension, further complicating the situation. If the trend continues, the Bangladeshis in the Gulf would face problems.
The Gulf recruits over 70 percent of Bangladesh's nearly 90 lakh migrant workers. Sixty percent of the $15 billion remittance Bangladesh receives a year come from the Gulf region.
Economic downslide would lead to layoffs, and the migrants would bear the brunt, he added.
Hanif Mia, a Bangladeshi migrant in Riyadh of Saudi Arabia, said though Saudi Arabia late last year lifted a seven-year ban on recruiting more workers from Bangladesh, many of those going there were actually without jobs.
There were also cases of low pays and non-payment by companies due to economic slowdown and drop in oil prices, which went down to around $50 a barrel recently from over $100 in 2008-09.
"The wage of Bangladeshis also dropped. If someone's monthly wage was equivalent to Tk 30,000, it came down to Tk 20,000 to Tk 25,000," he told this correspondent by phone.
Prof Tasneem Siddiqui, chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, said migrants face the brunt of any economic or political conflict. Bangladesh needs to carefully watch developments in the Gulf and be ready to address challenges arising from it.
Expatriates' Welfare Minister Nurul Islam said Bangladesh's labour market would not be affected as it deals with "individual countries differently".
"If there is a war, it will naturally affect the labour market. There is no war there now," he said.