Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has arrived in Qatar on his first official visit, and has pledged to press for changes to “rules and regulations” to benefit the country’s massive Indian population.
During his two-day trip, which is part of a five-nation tour, Modi will meet with the Emir today and with business leaders and select members of the 630,000-strong Indian expat community. He will then head to Switzerland tonight.
Qatar is the second leg of the prime minister’s trip. He was previously in Afghanistan and will also go to the US.
Modi’s trip has been highly anticipated in Qatar, as it is the first official visit by an Indian PM in eight years. Additionally, Indian nationals comprise the largest single expat community here.
The prime minister’s plane arrived at the Emiri terminal at Hamad International Airport shortly before 5pm last night, and was met by Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al -Thani.
— Anurag Srivastava (@MEAIndia) June 4, 2016
Shortly after arriving, Modi met with 500 workers at a medical camp in Msheireb Downtown, organized by the Indian Community Benevolent Fund and the Indian Doctors’ Club.
The social media-savvy PM highlighted the visit on his official Twitter account:
Smiles and snacks in Doha…my first programme in Qatar was a visit to a Workers' Camp in downtown Doha. pic.twitter.com/vgQwZdZssX
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 4, 2016
During his 25-minute visit, which began shortly after 7pm yesterday, the PM thanked the workers for helping create India’s “good name” overseas, and said he would lobby for their welfare.
Spokesman Vikas Swarup tweeted in English excerpts of the PM’s Hindi speech:
“I am aware of the issues that you all face here & whenever I meet the leadership of this part of the world, I raise these issues.
If you have some issues on changing some rules and regulations, I will work with you all to bring about these changes.”
Modi also appealed to workers to look after their health and fitness, adding: “Do work hard, but while doing so, please do focus on keeping your health and body fighting fit.”
According to the Peninsula, the PM continued:
“I was inquiring about major health problems of workers, proper counseling, diabetes are major challenges. Sometimes loneliness is a disease. When someone asks how we are, we feel better. But when someone who speaks our language asks us that, half the loneliness goes away.”
Modi spent some time sitting with the workers, eating food and talking to them. One such employee was Vinod Kumar from Kerala.
“I could not believe it. I was so happy and excited as he came to me and sat by my side. He also shared the food that the organization had given to me, it was unbelievable,” Gulf Times quoted Kumar as saying.
This morning, Modi and his delegation met with Qatar’s Minister of Economy and Commerce Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohamed Al Thani, as well as Qatari business leaders.
During that meeting, he said, according to spokesman Swarup:
“India is a land of opportunity. I have come to personally invite you to take advantage of this opportunity. All of you recognize the potential of India. I will address the bottlenecks you have identified.”
On the agenda for today’s visit with the Emir are discussions about economic ties – Qatar is Indian’s biggest supplier of LNG – as well as construction and regional politics.
Ahead of Modi’s arrival, one workers’ rights group has appealed to him to make the trip count by fighting for changes to labor rights, particularly for lower-income expats working in the state.
As part of a seven-point plan detailed on its website, human and labor rights group Migrant-Rights.org called for Modi to do more to protect his citizens who are living and working in Qatar.
It asked him to do so by pushing for:
- Better health and welfare provisions for Indian expats in the country;
- More support to help returning Indians integrate more easily in their communities;
- Increased protection for unskilled workers, especially domestic staff in Qatar;
- The introduction of legal aid in the state; and
- Fair salaries for Indian nurses working in Qatar’s hospitals.