As Qatar marks one year since the pandemic erupted, families remain torn apart while waiting for their Exceptional Entry Permits to be approved.
As Covid-19 spread around the globe last year, the world came to a grinding halt. In Qatar, borders were abruptly shut from March 18, 2020, leaving those outside Qatar at the time stranded abroad and struggling to return home.
In August 2020, Qatari authorities announced resident permit [RP] holders could apply for an ‘Exceptional Entry Permit’ [EEP] to return to the country. Precautions such as home quarantine for those coming from designated low-risk countries, as well as hotel quarantine for those coming from other destinations were put in place to help mitigate the risk of the spread of Covid-19.
But the EEP approvals were, for the most part, arbitrary, with applications being rejected without giving the applicants a reason.
In August it was estimated that more than 250,000 residents were abroad and waiting to come back to Qatar, though as some receive approvals, this is now likely to be lower.
The aim of the EEP system was to stagger the return of residents to the country to reduce the risk of a spike in coronavirus numbers. However it seems that the system is far from organised, with little clarity being given to those whose applications are rejected or remain pending.
Moreover it appears there’s little in the way of consideration when it comes to family circumstances.
The move, though harsh, is not limited to Qatar. Most recently, the United Kingdom announced major precautionary measures to contain its surging cases, going as far as banning direct flights from Qatar and other countries with confirmed mutated variants of the virus.
However, in November 2020, the circumstances in Qatar took a turn for the better and authorities said EEP’s would be automatically approved for anyone leaving the country after the announcement. Though this helps those wishing to travel, it did little to quell the desperate calls of citizens stranded abroad.
Since then, travel to and from Qatar has been fairly straightforward, with residents needing to quarantine at a hotel when coming from most countries around the world, with the exception of a few countries on the Ministry of Public Health’s ‘green list.’
For those who were previously stuck out of Qatar, the process is still ongoing. Mian Ashraf, a resident stuck in Pakistan for 14 months now, first applied for his EEP in September. After it was rejected the first time due to wrong paperwork, he re-applied in November and has since then just been playing a waiting game.
The bigger issue at play for him, however, is that because of the delay, he has lost his job.
For others, the process has been slow, but eventually has shown some progress. J. Saeed, an Egyptian expat, finally got her EEP approved after five long months of waiting.
When her family first applied for her EEP in November, they were told to contact the Government Contact Centre helpline, who kept telling them that it was not Saeed’s turn yet as they were processing a backlog of EEPs.
After several months of waiting, as a last resort, Saeed’s family were forced to tap into “personal connections” to find a way to get her EEP approved.
But it’s not as easy for those with no influential networks.
Thousands of residents, both in and out of Qatar, are awaiting the resumption of family visit visas to reunite with their loved ones. Recently, a petition to the Indian Embassy in Qatar was launched by resident Suhail Jafar, who has been estranged from his two daughters since the start of the pandemic last year.
In only 15 days, the change.org petition has received more than 1,500 signatures, with those waiting to meet their families sharing stories on the petition’s page.
“My husband is in [sic] Qatar since December 2019. I was in India for my delivery and got stuck up since then. My baby is going to turn 1 year in May 2021. It’s been more than one year I am managing alone with my baby. It’s a tough time for me. Really request the government to start the family visas at least so that I can unite with my husband soon. I and my baby are waiting eagerly,” said Deepshikha Dhingra.
“Hello. I’ve got [sic] married in September and within 10 days came back. Since then I am running pillar to post [sic] for the visa of my wife. It’s really hard to stay away especially when newly married. I can’t focus on my work and I’m always mentally disturbed. 10 times a day I’m thinking to resign [sic] from my job and go back. Requesting the authorities to please consider genuine cases. We can abide by all the quarantine procedures and whatever formalities. Thank you,” said Omer Qureshi.
Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Qatar’s swift and strict measures have helped the Gulf state hold its position as one of few nations with the lowest mortality rates in the world.
However, as we now mark one year since the Covid-19 pandemic brought life to a standstill, reuniting families should top all priority lists.
Doha News reached out to the Government Communication Office for a statement but has yet to receive a statement.