Qatar residents ‘panic buy’ food after Saudi border closure

In this photo provided by Doha News, shoppers stock up on supplies at a supermarket in Doha, Qatar. (Doha News via AP)
Updated 05 June 2017

Qatar residents ‘panic buy’ food after Saudi border closure

JEDDAH: Qatar residents on Monday flocked to supermarkets to stock up on food, in response to Saudi Arabia’s decision to close the country’s sole land border effective early morning.

Social media users reported “panic buying,” with pictures of overflowing shopping carts and empty shelves, after major Gulf states cut diplomatic ties with Doha.
“The severity of the Qatari embargo will depend on its duration,” said John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Center (GRC). If this is a prolonged matter, then “this will have a significant impact on tradable goods between the Gulf and Qatar,” the Riyadh-based economist told Arab News.

Thousands of trucks filled with food were stuck at the Saudi-Qatari border and were unable to enter Qatar early on Monday.

Saudi academic Hatoon Al-Fassi, who is based in Doha, said shops were full of people on Monday, but shelves soon emptied. She said it resembled what people would do when on the verge of entering “a state of war.”

“Staff at Georgetown University based here (in Doha) received official statements that they should stock up on food and water,” Al-Fassi, who teaches at Qatar University, told Arab News.

Qatar receives much of its food imports via land from the Kingdom, the only country Qatar shares a land border with. According to a report released by the Future Directions International research institute in 2015, most of Qatar’s food imports are shipped through the Strait of Hormuz or across the Saudi border.

With the shutdown of land access from the Kingdom, some expect Qatar to fall short on food products, forcing it to find a substitute.

There will be alternative trading partners for Qatar, but “it could be at a higher cost,” said Sfakianakis. “Qatar could opt to import more goods via its air fleet. It all remains to be seen,” he said.
Sfakianakis added that he does not believe the Saudi import and export industry will be impacted.

Iran said it would provide Qatar with food by sea, the Associated Press reported, citing the semi-official Fars News Agency. The agency quoted Reza Nourani, chairman of the union of exporters of agricultural products, as saying that food shipments sent from Iran can reach Qatar in 12 hours.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE halted exports of white sugar to Qatar, as the fall of diplomatic relations between the countries hit the food trade, Reuters reported on Monday. Qatar is dependent on the Kingdom and the UAE for its white sugar imports, which are estimated to at less than 100,000 tons annually, according to the same report

Qatar, with a population of 2.3 million, was planning to reduce food imports to improve its self-sufficiency in the food industry, as per its National Food Security Program (QNESP) plan, which came into force in 2014. The plan aims to boost domestic food production to supply 40 percent of its food consumption by 2030.

Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

Syrian children are pictured at a refugee camp in the village of Mhammara in the northern Lebanese Akkar region on March 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2019

Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

  • Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon
  • Jan Kubis: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible

BEIRUT: Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about reports that Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon face torture and murder.

This coincides with a debate in Lebanon about whether Syrian refugees should return without waiting for a political solution to the conflict in their country. 

UN Special Coordinator Jan Kubis stressed after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday the “urgent need to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees home, according to international humanitarian norms.” 

Kubis added: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible. Another very important message was also to support the host communities here in Lebanon.”

Mireille Girard, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Monday said: “The reconstruction process in Syria may not be enough to attract refugees to return. We are working to identify the reasons that will help them to return.”

She added: “The arrival of aid to the refugees is an element of trust that helps them to return. Their dignity and peaceful living must be ensured.”

Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumdjian said the Lebanese General Security “issued lists containing the names of refugees wishing to return to their homes, but the Syrian regime accepted only about 20 percent of them.”

He added: “The solution is to call on the international community to put pressure on Russia, so that Moscow can exert pressure on (Syrian President) Bashar Assad’s regime to show goodwill and invite Syrian refugees to return to their land without conditions, procedures, obstacles and laws that steal property and land from them.”

Lebanese Education Minister Akram Chehayeb said: “The problem is not reconstruction and infrastructure, nor the economic and social situation. The main obstacle is the climate of fear and injustice in Syria.”

He added: “There are 215,000 Syrian students enrolled in public education in Lebanon, 60,000 in private education, and there are informal education programs for those who have not yet attended school to accommodate all children under the age of 18.” 

Chehayeb said: “As long as the displacement crisis continues, and as long as the (Assad) regime’s decision to prevent the (refugees’) return stands … work must continue to absorb the children of displaced Syrians who are outside education to protect Lebanon today and Syria in the future.”