A day after six nations simultaneously broke ties with Qatar, the Non-Resident Keralite's Affairs (NORKA) Department said that this move poses no crisis or threat for Keralites or other Indians in the country.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Maldives and Yemen cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremists, and closed off air, sea and land links with the latter country.
With nearly 3 lakh Keralites, Qatar hosts the fourth-largest population of non-resident Keralites after UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman, and accounts for 5% of all NRKs. Hence, NORKA and the Kerala government are keeping a close watch on the situation as it develops in Qatar.
KN Raghavan, Chief Executive Officer of NORKA told TNM that with Qatar Airways continuing its flight operations, travel to India would not be disrupted, despite the Gulf nations terminating their operations. However, travel for Indians within the Gulf region will be affected, as UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain have denied airspace to Qatar. Travelers from Qatar, therefore, will have to take roundabout routes with multiple stops to reach other Gulf nations.
â€śThe only thing is that they need to take longer routes, not that they wonâ€™t be able to travel,â€ť said Raghavan.
Raghavan added that NORKA is keeping a close eye on the emerging situation, and is fully prepared to handle the situation should any problems arise. â€śWe have a 24-hour call centre at NORKA. Even if any kind of emergency comes up, we are equipped to handle it. If so, what we have to do is to operate additional flights to Kerala from Qatar,â€ť Raghavan said.
Soon after the diplomatic crisis came to light, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, raising concerns about the safety of non-resident Indians there, as well as the â€śfuture of their employment and engagement in Qatarâ€ť. He also asked that the Indian Embassy in Doha be sufficiently empowered to deal with any crisis faced by Indians there.
While local authorities in Qatar have reassured citizens that the situation will not result in a crisis, there are reports of incidents of panic buying in Doha and other places, as fears of food shortage arise. What has sparked the panic is that almost 99% of Qatarâ€™s food supplies are imported into the country across the Qatar-Saudi border, reports say.
Raghavan said that NORKA and the Kerala government were fully confident of dealing with any emergent situations, as even big crises have been effectively tackled in Kuwait in 1990, and in Yemen in 2015. Both situations necessitated the evacuations of large numbers of Indians out of conflict zones. â€śThere is no comparison between the past crises in countries in the Middle East and the situation in Qatar now,â€ť he asserted.