Philippines halts workers’ deployment to Qatar

The Philippines on Tuesday halted the deployment of workers to Qatar as the gas-rich Gulf state grappled with a diplomatic crisis after its neighbours cut ties with Doha.

Labour chief Silvestre Bello said Manila was taking precautions as it fears that problems like food shortages could affect the more than 200,000 Filipinos in Qatar should the crisis worsen.

Saudi Arabia and several of its allies on Monday severed relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremism, in the biggest diplomatic crisis to have hit the Middle East’s Gulf region in years.

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

The Gulf states and Egypt said their diplomatic move includes closing transport links with Qatar, which relies on imports from its neighbours.

“We are forseeing a possible problem in Qatar,” Bello said at a news conference.

“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 as of last year, but the total number could surpass 200,000 if those without proper documents are counted.

The ban will also affect individuals whose papers have been approved or are scheduled to depart for Qatar, according to Bello.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said the actions by the Gulf states may have “some ripple effects” on Filipino workers.

He said government agencies would extend assistance to those affected.

More than 10 million Filipinos work or stay permanently overseas, part of a global diaspora that sends back billions of dollars annually to help prop up the economy.