World Economy

Foreign Workers Lose Jobs and Lives in (P)GCC States

Foreign Workers Lose Jobs and Lives in (P)GCC States Foreign Workers Lose Jobs and Lives in (P)GCC States

The economic slowdown gripping countries across the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) can be seen in layoffs, slowed construction projects and government cutbacks. For the millions of foreign workers drawn by brighter job prospects, it can have a far-darker side if they find themselves deep in debt.

The (P)GCC Arab countries like Qatar don't have bankruptcy laws, leaving laid-off workers on the hook for huge outstanding sums while often banned from traveling outside the country. That leaves many unemployed begging friends and family for help while frantically selling off all their belongings. Others have killed themselves out of desperation, AP reported.

"It was kind of scary for a while there," said Robert Foster, an American from Beaufort, South Carolina, who found himself trapped for months in Qatar. "We sold everything we had."

The Middle East has weathered several boom-and-bust cycles over the last decades, both buoyed and beaten by the global price of crude oil, as well as the recent recession. In 2009, the financial meltdown in Dubai saw dusty luxury cars parked and abandoned at its international airport and across the city as foreigners fled their debts.

This recent financial collapse began with oil prices falling from over $100 a barrel in the summer of 2014 to bottom out this January to under $30, a 12-year low. In the time since, oil has clawed back to $50 on supply disruptions and lowered reserves, but the damage already has been done in the Arab states.

Coffers Sink

Among those hard hit was Qatar, a small oil-and-gas-rich country where construction accelerated with the announcement it would host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. As oil and gas prices sank, so did Qatar's coffers, leading to layoffs across both private and public companies.

The state-run Qatar Petroleum fired at least 1,500 foreign workers in recent restructuring, said Mohammed bin Saleh al-Sada, Qatar's energy and industry minister.

Maersk Oil said in October it would cut as much as 12% of its staff in Qatar. Vodafone's Qatar subsidiary announced on May 17 it would cut about 10% of its workforce, while mobile phone competitor Ooredoo also made layoffs this year. Al-Jazeera, the peninsula nation's satellite news broadcaster, also shut down its American channel in April.

Under Qatari law, foreign workers must apply for an exit permit through their employer to leave the country.

In late April, Binladin Group, close to the Saudi ruling regime, facing severe economic difficulties, laid off 77,000 foreign workers. The group confirmed some departures, but refused to provide an exact figure.


A British coroner investigating the suspected suicide of an engineer from Gloucestershire found hanging in his Doha home in February 2015 ruled this March that "financial worries" may have played a part. The case remains open as Qatari authorities provided only "limited information," according to the inquest report obtained by the AP.

Suicides also affect those coming to Persian Gulf Arab countries for work as laborers, taxi drivers and other low-paying jobs. They often pay recruiters back home in Asia or Africa huge sums that take several years to pay off.

India, one of the main countries supplying low-paid workers to the Persian Gulf Arab states, saw at least 541 of its citizens kill themselves in the UAE in the last three years, according to government statistics offered to parliament in December. At least 337 Indians died in suspected suicides in Saudi Arabia during the same period, while other Persian Gulf Arab countries saw annual suicide numbers in the double digits. In Qatar, 21 Indians alone killed themselves in 2015. The deaths continue into this year.