Qatar firms cancel expat leave, restrict travel after Arab rift

DOHA- Expatriates working for Qatar Petroleum and other organizations said on Thursday their employers had canceled holidays and barred them from leaving Qatar in the wake of its rift with other Arab states.
A Qatari official said some leave had been canceled in "essential government sectors" to keep staff on hand as authorities made plans to cope with the crisis, but did not mention travel restrictions or any focus on foreigners.
Expatriate executives and engineers at the energy group said the orders started a day after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed trade and transport links with Qatar this month accusing it of backing militants - a charge it dismisses.
Doctors from the government-run Hamad hospital made similar reports and others said the orders had affected hundreds of people.
There was no one immediately available to comment from Qatar Petroleum or the hospital.
"I was told not to travel. My exit permit and holiday was canceled," said a British expatriate working for a subsidiary of state-owned Qatar Petroleum, the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
A work-sponsorship system widely enforced in the Gulf and known in Qatar as "kafala" requires foreign workers to get their employer's consent to change jobs or leave the country.
Expatriates from Europe and America usually acquire multiple-exit permits from their employers allowing them to travel more freely than migrant laborers from India and Nepal who make up the bulk of the 2.7 million-strong population.
"Certain government bodies canceled leave so staff were present to help with vital planning such as chartering new shipping routes and getting food into the country," said the Qatari official who declined to be named under briefing rules.