Manila stops workers going to Qatar  

The Philippines has blocked the departure of its nationals to Qatar (pictured) after the Persian Gulf state’s neighbours cut ties with Doha.

The Philippine central bank estimates the money sent back in remittances by its foreign workers in 2016 was US$26.9 billion, or about 10 per cent of GDP.

Labour minister Silvestre Bello said Manila was taking precautions as it feared that problems like food shortages could affect the more than 200,000 nationals in Qatar should the crisis deepen.

“There are so many wild rumours going around, saying things are not going well there,” Bello said.

Saudi Arabia and several allies this week severed relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremism.

Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and the Maldives cut ties, which the Saudis accuse of supporting groups, including some backed by Iran, “that aim to destabilise the region”.

Millions of Philippine citizens work overseas as domestic helpers, on ships, construction sites and as nurses among other jobs.

Many head to oil-rich Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, which hosts nearly a million Filipinos.

The countries said their diplomatic move included blocking transport links with Qatar, which relies on imports from its neighbours.

“We are foreseeing a possible problem in Qatar,” Bello told the media.

“For example, we know for a fact that Qatar does not produce its own food. If anything happens that they run out of food and food riots will take place, definitely our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) … will be the first victims,” he said.

“That’s why we really need to make preparatory measures to meet a possible exigency.”

Bello said there were 141,000 documented Filipino workers in Qatar in 2016, but the total might exceed 200,000 if those without proper documentation were counted.

The ban would also apply to nationals whose papers had been approved or were scheduled to depart for Qatar, Bello said.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella conceded that the diplomatic crisis might “some ripple effects” on Filipino workers.

He said the government would assist those affected.

More than 10 million Filipinos work or stay permanently overseas.

Doha said it had taken all measures to ensure life would continue as normal under the blockade and that there was no need to panic.

Qatar is heavily dependent on foreign workers as more than half of its 2.5 million population come from overseas.

India, Nepal and Bangladesh also have significant numbers of nationals in Qatar, many of whom work in construction.

Picture credit: Wikimedia