Qatar firms cancel expat leave, restrict travel after Arab rift

People use ATM machines at Qatar National Bank in Doha, Qatar, June 13, 2017.
People use ATM machines at Qatar National Bank in Doha, Qatar, June 13, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

DOHA (REUTERS) – Expatriates working in Qatar said on Thursday (June 22) their employers had cancelled holidays and barred them from leaving the country in the wake of a rift with other Arab powers.

A Qatari government official said some leave had been cancelled in “essential government sectors” to keep staff on hand as authorities made plans to cope with the crisis, but did not mention travel restrictions or any focus on foreigners.

Expatriate executives and engineers at Qatar Petroleum said the orders started a day after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed trade and transport links with Qatar this month accusing Doha of backing militants – a charge it dismisses.

“I was told not to travel. My exit permit and holiday was cancelled,” said a British expatriate at one of the state-owned group’s subsidiaries.

A spokesman for Qatar Petroleum said that due to the sanctions on Qatar “a few selected critical employees may have been asked to postpone their leave for operational reasons at their discretion.”

He said all expatriate and Qatari staff could still apply for leave by following standard procedures but did not mention exit permits.

Doctors from the government-run Hamad hospital made similar reports and others said the orders had affected hundreds of people.

There was no one immediately available to comment from the hospital’s management.

A work-sponsorship system widely enforced in the Gulf and known in Qatar as “kafala” requires foreign workers to get their employer’s consent to change jobs or leave the country.

Expatriates from Europe and America usually acquire multiple-exit permits from their employers allowing them to travel more freely than migrant laborers from India and Nepal who make up the bulk of the 2.7 million-strong population.

“Certain government bodies cancelled leave so staff were present to help with vital planning such as chartering new shipping routes and getting food into the country,” said the Qatari official who declined to be named under briefing rules.