Doha boundNepal govt should be ready to help our migrant workers if Gulf crisis worsens
Seven countries, most of them Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday, exposing the deepening rift in the Gulf and leading to a major regional crisis. Riyadh has accused Doha of supporting terror groups, including some backed by Iran. Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are major Gulf powers with a long antagonistic history that are vying for regional geostrategic power and influence. Qatar reacted to the accusations against it with fury, saying that they “have no basis in fact”.
The immediate trigger for Monday’s move remains unclear, but tensions between Riyadh and Doha have been simmering for years, as small but oil-rich Qatar has sought to project its influence in the region. It is likely that the root of the dispute is Qatar’s refusal to toe the line of Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s relative proximity to Iran.
Among the various actions taken against Qatar is the closing of borders between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also suspended air and sea travel between them and Qatar, effectively blocking food and other supplies. Already, there are reports from across Qatar of people rushing to supermarkets to stock up on food and water.
No doubt, trade and investment could take a serious hit and oil prices could be affected too. Qatar also hosts the largest US airbase in the region, which is vital for operations against ISIS. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are US allies, and the rift between the two could weaken the fight against the terrorist group.
The real pawns in this geopolitical game are the ordinary citizens, especially foreign workers including more than 400,000 Nepalis based in the tiny Gulf nation. Nepalis working as heavy vehicle drivers transporting goods between different countries in the region are likely to be immediately impacted. While there is little Nepal can do to resolve the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf, what it can certainly do is help its citizens in the region deal with the uncertainty engendered by the crisis.
It is good that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked Nepali missions in the region to send updates on the impact the crisis may have on Nepali migrant workers. But it should take other proactive measures to alleviate their suffering. It can, for starters, set up a hotline to facilitate communication. It should prepare itself to mount rescue operations in case the situation deteriorates, much like India did to fly 29 of its citizens out of Saudi Arabia in March. The Nepalis in the region need to feel that their government is closely following the issue and that they will be looked after if tensions heighten and they fall into hardship.