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Burma monitoring migrant workers in Qatar amid Middle East diplomatic row

Buildings are seen from across the water in Doha, Qatar, on 5 June 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma’s government is keeping an eye on the situation for its migrant workers in Qatar this week as a diplomatic crisis has engulfed the Middle Eastern emirate, with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population vowing to assist any Burmese nationals facing difficulties as a result of the regional upheaval.

Myo Aung, the ministry’s permanent secretary, told DVB on Wednesday that the ministry believes the turmoil among Persian Gulf states would not significantly impact Burmese migrant workers in Qatar. Nonetheless, he added, Naypyidaw is monitoring developments in the oil-rich and increasingly isolated nation, as well as collecting information on conditions for Burmese migrant workers there.

“We won’t neglect this situation. We are always observing the situation for our workers,” Myo Aung said.

Five Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday, reportedly in part over the latter’s alleged financial support for terrorist organisations. As a result, major international airlines from the countries involved in the severing of ties, such as United Arab Emirates-based Etihad Airways and Emirates, have suspended flights to and from Qatar.

“If the airlines have suspended flights to and from Qatar, the workers could have transportation difficulties. At the moment, workers and [overseas employment] agencies have not yet informed us” of specific problems, said the permanent secretary.

According to a federation representing Burma’s overseas employment agencies, the diplomatic row has effectively eliminated Egypt as one of two primary destination countries where Burmese migrant workers in Qatar travel to go through the process of extending their visas.

Kyaw Zaw, joint secretary No. 1 of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF), said there are an estimated 3,000 Burmese migrant labourers in Qatar, typically working in the construction, airline and hospitality industries.

He said the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population had not yet ordered a suspension on sending workers to Qatar, and that the federation would continue to send Burmese labour to Qatar until further notice.

“Due to the crisis, Myanmar workers must go to Kuwait for visa extensions. Previously, Myanmar workers could also go to the Egypt,” he said, adding that Qatar ranked sixth in terms of countries with the highest populations of Burmese migrant workers.

Kyaw Zaw noted that some Burmese migrant workers are known to be based in Qatar but employed with the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned Emirates airline, likely complicating their employment situation as Emirates flights to Qatar are suspended indefinitely.