Mi­gra­tion and the Qatari Iden­tity

Qatar Today - - FRONT PAGE - BY AYSWARYA MURTHY

WHILE QATAR HAS LONG BEEN ON THE PATH TO­WARDS A KNOWL­EDGE-BASED ECON­OMY, CUR­RENT CIR­CUM­STANCES HAVE SHRUNK DEAD­LINES AND PRE­CIP­I­TATED A SENSE OF UR­GENCY. ACROSS THE COUN­TRY, IN BOARD­ROOMS AND MA­JLISES, SOME UN­COM­FORT­ABLE YET NEC­ES­SARY CON­VER­SA­TIONS ARE TAK­ING PLACE. AT QATARTODAY, WE WANTED TO REKIN­DLE DIS­COURSE ON ONE SUCH TOPIC – MI­GRA­TION AND THE QATARI IDEN­TITY.

From a so­ci­ol­o­gist's point of view, Qatar (and a cou­ple of other GCC coun­tries with sim­i­lar pop­u­la­tion pro­files) must make for a fas­ci­nat­ing study. Its mi­gra­tion model, pop­u­la­tion de­mo­graph­ics and so­cial struc­tures have no prece­dent or com­par­i­son any­where else in the world or from any other time in history. In th­ese na­tion states, for­eign­ers dra­mat­i­cally out­num­ber the in­dige­nous, tra­di­tion­ally ho­moge­nous pop­u­la­tion who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing swift and sub­stan­tial changes to their so­ci­eties. Which is why the coun­try's pol­i­cy­mak­ers grap­ple with some unique chal­lenges that will re­quire home-grown, cus­tomised so­lu­tions. We speak to three aca­demics who elab­o­rate on the crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions that fac­tor into mi­gra­tion poli­cies in Qatar, how sus­tain­able the cur­rent path is and the dif­fi­cult as­pects of this equa­tion that are block­ing much­needed re­forms.

Tran­sience is the norm; any­thing more is ac­ci­den­tal

When craft­ing a strat­egy for the fu­ture of a coun­try, it isn't ex­actly ideal to not be able to pre­dict what the strength of the pop­u­la­tion will be ten years on, es­pe­cially when the pop­u­la­tion is small. Would a fi­nan­cial/po­lit­i­cal/mil­i­tary cri­sis re­sult in a dras­tic drop in num­bers in Qatar, even to the tune of 90%? This is ob­vi­ously a gross ex­ag­ger­a­tion but it shows how mi­gra­tion trends are dif­fi­cult to pre­dict and can undo even the best-laid plans, es­pe­cially in a re­gion as dy­namic and volatile as ours.

The con­cern about over-re­liance on peo­ple who are here tem­po­rar­ily, and that too for such crit­i­cal parts of the econ­omy, is ever-present in the minds of lead­ers, although it might not be ex­pressed as ob­vi­ously. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers, es­pe­cially, tend to look at this from cri­sis mode, through the lens of para­noia and panic, says Dr Zahra Babar, As­so­ciate Di­rec­tor for Re­search at the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional and Re­gional Stud­ies, Ge­orge­town Univer­sity School of For­eign Ser­vice in Qatar. And there is an un­der­stand­ing, she con­tin­ues, that given the de­mo­graphic pat­terns, Qatar will con­tinue to need peo­ple to oc­cupy cer­tain cat­e­gories of the labour mar­ket (namely, the 3D jobs – dirty, dan­ger­ous or de­mand­ing), and this can't be helped. “But what could change is the cli­mate on at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing glob­alised pro­fes­sion­als,” she says.

It's no se­cret that Qatar hopes to shift the way the dif­fer­ent groups of mi­grants (low, semi and highly skilled) are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pop­u­la­tion. “While low-skilled mi­grants now make up the ma­jor­ity, in the long run, when most of the ma­jor projects and in­fras­truc­ture con­struc­tions are com­pleted, the de­mand for this type

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