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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Qatar 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Qatar at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Doha does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Please review OSAC’s Qatar-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

As Qatar continues preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Doha is experiencing a massive number of construction projects and economic activity. With a steady influx of migrant workers, Qatar’s population increased to over 2.67 million people in December 2018, according to the Qatari Ministry of Development, Planning, and Statistics (MDPS). Expatriates continue to outnumber Qatari nationals approximately nine to one, and labor workers heavily contribute to a significant gender imbalance (75% male) in the overall population.

Crime Threats

There is minimal risk from crime in Doha. According to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, Qatar ranks as the tenth-safest country in the world. The Qatar MDPS states that Qatar has the seventh-lowest crime rate in the world, according to the 2017 Global Crime Index. The government monitors crime trends carefully and expends great effort to keep pace via improved security and law enforcement capabilities in an effort to identify, deter, and neutralize emerging crime trends or threats. At the same time, anecdotal evidence suggests that crime is underreported; resident expatriates often do not report minor crimes, as they may fear deportation, and wish to avoid costly legal proceedings. For example, since foreign workers tend to fear deportation, crimes committed by Qataris against foreign workers (domestic staff) may go unreported. RSO encourages personnel to report crimes and assists Embassy personnel in this endeavor.

The Government of Qatar reports a low number of violent incidents and crime. Murders and violent crime are well below the global average. Violent crime targeting U.S. and other Western expatriates, although relatively rare, does occur. Government authorities indicate a low rate of other crimes (e.g. kidnapping, assault, and arson) compared with the rest of the region. The burglary rate is also reportedly well below the global average. Burglaries and thefts typically occur after dark and/or when Western expatriates are away from their homes for extended periods. Reporting indicates that criminals are more likely to target expatriate-style stand-alone residences, rather than residences or apartments in gated and secured compounds.

Incidents of theft from or of motor vehicles (sometimes in connection with “joyriding”) do occur as crimes of opportunity, but are rare in guarded/gated residential communities. 

Due to Qatar’s reliance on foreign workers, foreign labor camps house the large resident foreign “blue-collar” labor pool. These areas tend to have higher rates of crime. Moreover, large numbers of foreign workers congregate in certain areas of Doha and its environs on weekends and after hours, leading to overcrowding and the presence of an almost exclusively male laborer demographic.

The government reports that most instances of violent crime are between/among certain third-country national groups composed of young male laborers, and therefore more prevalent within the third-country national labor camps and industrial areas; these do not target Western expatriates. The government is adept at deporting guest workers who might be involved in crimes or pose a threat to public safety. Edged weapons are available and, along with blunt instruments, are often the weapon of choice. Violence by one group of third-country nationals against another frequently involves the use of improvised weapons (e.g. tools, sports equipment, and construction materials). These altercations are often the result of specific disputes unique to the populations living in industrial neighborhoods and labor camps. These incidents occasionally occur near, or overflow into, commercial business areas where criminals can locate/create burglary tools and other cutting instruments to perpetrate criminal activity.

While possession of firearms is not widespread among the general population, individuals can obtain permits to purchase and carry firearms.

Other reported crimes include, but are not limited to, various types of immigration and residency fraud, ATM/credit card theft, white collar fraud, embezzlement, counterfeiting, illegal narcotics (use/smuggling/possession/trafficking/distribution), identity theft/fraud, begging, pickpocketing (particularly in crowded locales), unauthorized real estate businesses, illegal private taxi services, and various cybercrime activities. There are frequent reports of corporate disputes over business practices.

The most common reason for arrests of U.S. citizens as reported to the U.S. Embassy has been for bounced checks, a felony in Qatar. It is common practice to ask renters for a year’s worth of pre-dated checks in order to rent an apartment; if the renter leaves without getting the checks back, the rental company may continue to cash them. Business owners may write checks as well for insurance in business deals; those in possession may also cash them should the deal go awry. Banks will also give out loans with very little collateral required; debtors must pay these in full before final departure from Qatar. U.S. citizens have found themselves stuck in Qatar, unable to work or reside legally, because of bounced checks or unsatisfied bank loans.

Cybersecurity Issues

Qatar takes cybersecurity seriously and, over the last few years, has been the victim of several high-profile, publicly reported cyberattacks on government and media websites and on energy industry networks. Qatar is one of a very few countries in the Middle East/North Africa region to have cybercriminal and cybersecurity legislation in place.

The widely publicized hacking of the state-run Qatar News Agency (QNA) website occurred just prior to the June 2017 onset of the diplomatic rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt. The hacker had posted a fake news report of the Amir calling Iran a “superpower,” lauding Hamas, and speculating that President Trump might not last long in power. The QNA removed the story; the website shut down and has still not re-opened.

Unsuspecting U.S. victims reported internet-based scams in Qatar to the Regional Security Office (RSO) and Ministry of Interior (MOI) in 2018. Fraudsters used the U.S. Embassy’s logo and phone numbers to solicit payment from victims for services including purchases of industrial equipment, enrollment fees for U.S. universities, and job offers.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications has a dedicated computer emergency response team (Q-CERT), which identifies and resolves major threats and maintains a reporting and analysis coordination effort. Q-CERT works to address cybersecurity threats to minimize the risks from malware, malicious actors (e.g. hackers, terrorists, organized criminal networks, industrial, and foreign government espionage) and cyber warfare. Companies and members of the public can report cyber incidents by phone, by email, and through an incident reporting form. Q-CERT’s website includes a daily threat alert dashboard, statistics, and access to technical services assessment and testing. In addition to Q-CERT, MOI established E-SHIELD and a Cyber Security Center (CSC) in 2018 to protect the country’s digital infrastructure and respond to cyber-attacks. CSC and E-SHIELD use the MITRE ATT&CK framework.

The MOI investigates and prosecutes cybercrimes, which fall under its criminal investigation jurisdiction; under Qatari law, these can include defamation and use of the Internet for a wide range of criminal purposes. MOI’s Cybercrime Combating Centre provides data and security intelligence to roving security patrols to interdict and investigate criminal acts. To report cybercrimes to the MOI, you can contact the Cybercrime Combating Centre at (+974) 2347444 or hotline (+974) 66815757, or via e-mail.

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Cybersecurity Basics. Include hacking and other cyber/computer-based crimes here.

Other Areas of Concern

The Qatari Coast Guard (MOI’s General Directorate of Coasts and Borders Security) and/or Navy may stop and board private watercraft for straying into sensitive or restricted zones. Security awareness while in the maritime environment is essential.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

The road network in metropolitan Doha, though generally in good condition, strains under the growing number of vehicles on the road and ongoing construction. The government enacted a plan in mid-2013 to smooth the traffic flow in many heavily traveled areas. Most preexisting major roundabouts within Doha’s city limits are now four-way intersections controlled by traffic signals. 

Construction areas on roads are often poorly marked, and can present a safety hazard. The presence of unmarked speed bumps can cause vehicles to lose control if hit at high speed. Outside of Doha, roadways vary from excellent to poor condition. Some are not properly illuminated; many lack shoulders. Although many highways are fenced to prevent livestock from venturing onto the road, many fences have improvised gates and holes. Low areas can be muddy or washed out during winter rains.

Participation in off-road desert excursions can be dangerous, and is better left to experienced "off-road" drivers with suitably equipped four-wheel drive (4x4) vehicles.

Drivers displaying varying degrees of skill, aggression, and attention often maneuver erratically and at high speed, demonstrating little road discipline or courtesy. Drivers often fail to use turn signals and may neglect to use headlights during darkness or inclement weather. Drivers use their mobile devices extensively to text, check emails, surf the internet, and use social media while driving. Many drivers and vehicle passengers do not use seat belts and tend to disregard traffic signals at intersections and roundabouts not monitored by the comprehensive traffic enforcement system of radars, sensors, and photo/video monitoring systems in place to enforce speed limits and red light controls. Even with these increased controls, compliance at non-controlled intersections and along unmonitored roads is poor. Traffic fatalities are one of Qatar's leading causes of death, and are the number one cause of accidental deaths. According to the Annual Bulletin of Vital Statistics, a majority of the victims of vehicle accidents are under 30 years old. Foreigners or others unaccustomed to Qatar’s liberal rules of the road who lose their temper and engage in road rage could face severe civil and/or criminal penalties; in rare cases, a travel ban may prevent them from departing Qatar until the matter is resolved to the offended party's satisfaction. Many U.S. companies provide employees with defensive driving training. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Qatar levies comparably high fines for traffic violations. Failure to stop at a red light – or for stopping over the solid white line at an intersection, even without running the red light – can result in a fine in excess of 6,000 Qatari Riyal (over US$1,600). While alcohol consumption is legal in some licensed hotels, Qatar exercises a zero-tolerance policy for driving while intoxicated; meaning that a driver with a blood alcohol count over 0.0 mg is driving impaired. Authorities will detain, arrest, and punish offenders with heavy civil/criminal fines and other penalties. Immediate deportation/expulsion is also common. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

If involved in a minor vehicular accident, report it via an MOI app named “Metrash 2.” After taking four photos of each vehicle, remove the vehicles from the roadway. The traffic law of October 2007 stipulates a QR 1,500 (US$412) fine for anyone who blocks traffic after a minor vehicular accident. In a more serious accident, or if a party is injured, do not remove the vehicles. It is a criminal offense to leave the scene of an accident. In accidents with property damage, it is imperative to file a police report in order to have the vehicle repaired or to collect on an insurance claim. If an accident results in injuries, it may be necessary to self-transport to medical facilities. There are no Good Samaritan laws, so assisting at the scene of an accident may expose the responder to liability.

Public Transportation Conditions

Establish the use of metered fares prior to entering a taxi. Uber is available and popular. For more information on ride sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report Safety and Security in the Share Economy. Limousine services are the preferred means for women traveling to/from hotels; women passengers should sit in the back seat. When using public taxis or limousine services, passengers should not allow the driver to pick up additional passengers. Passengers should have their cell phones readily available to report an accident or emergency. Female passengers should remain awake and alert throughout the ride, and exercise a higher degree of situational awareness if riding alone. Passengers should take note of the vehicle and driver information in the event of harassment. Report all harassment immediately to the police.

A public bus system runs limited routes throughout Doha, used most heavily by third-country national laborers. There is little/no use of the bus system by the rest of the population.

Qatar Rail is building a Metro rail system in Doha, with a light rail transit connection from Lusail City to Doha. Construction should run through 2019-20.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Qatar’s airport and civil aviation officials work closely with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration on security screening and compliance with U.S. security requirements on governing flights to/from the U.S. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a Customs and Border Protection unit at Doha’s Hamad International Airport (DOH), and conducts Global Entry interviews at its airport office upon appointment.

Opened in 2014, DOH is one of the world’s busiest civil aviation hubs for transit flights, with an estimated 90% of all travelers passing through in transit status. Qatar aviation officials reported that the biggest threat faced by the travelling public at DOH is theft onboard the airplanes from other passengers. There have been reports of arrests for theft of passports during flights; while passengers were asleep or not paying attention, criminals pilfered overhead baggage areas to steal passports, money, and other valuable items.

Expatriates with Qatar ID cards can use E-gate services at DOH free of charge for departures and arrivals, to bypass potentially long queues at immigration counters. To use E-Gate, a passenger places his/her Qatar ID card on the e-reader, which reads and verifies the stored biometric data.

Other Travel Conditions

When chartering any local watercraft (dhows in particular, but also motor boats or jet skis) for recreational excursions, exercise care and caution, particularly when operating close to shore in congested waterways. Safety procedures and protocols are generally not up to U.S. Coast Guard standards. There may not be adequate numbers of and/or accessibility to life jackets on board vessels, and licensing requirements to operate certain types of motorized watercraft are not required. Commercial and military vessels use the Gulf's waters heavily; many offshore oil and gas rigs, sunken platforms, and artificial atolls are also present.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Doha. The security and threat environment in the Gulf States remains significant, as regional extremist groups maintain the capability of conducting attacks and attempt to inspire potential sympathizers to conduct “lone wolf” attacks. We cannot dismiss the possibility of a terrorist attack against U.S. interests.

Continued threats from terrorist groups directed against U.S. interests worldwide require that U.S. citizens exercise a high-level of vigilance and security awareness, keep abreast of regional developments, and incorporate good security practices into their daily activities.

The countries involved in the diplomatic rift with Qatar allege that Qatar is a supporter of terrorism in the region due to its support for certain Islamist opposition groups. Qatar signed a Counterterrorism MOU with the United States in July 2017, a month following the rift’s onset; U.S. officials, including the President, have lauded Qatar’s recent progress on joint counterterrorism initiatives. Qatar released a terrorism list in March 2018 that included a number of Qatari nationals, and has twice joined the United States and all the other GCC states in simultaneous designations of terrorists and terrorism supporters. Additionally, Qatar hosted a counterterrorism dialogue with the United States in Doha in September 2018.  Participants included the MOI, Department of State, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of State hosted the first counterterrorism dialogue in the spring of 2018 in Washington D.C.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Regional developments in the Arabian Peninsula and the broader region may affect local public opinion and sentiment.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Doha. Public protests and/or demonstrations are rare. Demonstrations usually occur only with the prior approval from the government, which imposes tight controls on the event organizers.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The climate is extreme and unforgiving for approximately four to six months of the year. Throughout the year, but especially in the spring, Qatar is subject to dust storms that can emerge quickly, causing whiteout and low visibility conditions for hours to days. These storms can have a substantial impact on driving/road conditions and airport operations. During the summer (April-October), temperatures can average between 95-122 degrees Fahrenheit (35-50 degrees Celsius). The average humidity is 90%. During the winter (December-February), rain showers are more likely, with generally mild days and relatively cold (55 degrees Fahrenheit / 13 degrees Celsius) evenings.

In 2018, Doha experienced several flooding events. Due to a lack of drainage and overdevelopment, rainwater has nowhere to go and the ground becomes saturated rapidly. In late October, a severe rainstorm paralyzed Doha after approximately a year’s worth of rain fell in 3-4 hours. The storm stranded motorists, and gridlock ensued. Residences and parking garages in low-lying areas flooded. Police, fire, and emergency vehicles were unable to reach those in need or assist in flooding mitigation efforts. It took several days of pumping to return the city to normal. During the rainy season (September – December), it is important to monitor weather reports. Because of Doha’s unique location and climate, weather forecasting is not always accurate.

Qatar is located in an earthquake zone. Any buildings on reclaimed property or landfills may not be fully evaluated for structural integrity, and are more susceptible to damage.

Critical Infrastructure

Residential apartments and villas are usually not equipped with substantial insulation, lack waterproofing, and often have no interior heat.

Industrial and public health/safety standards are not always up to Western standards. Workplace accidents are common due to hazardous working conditions, relaxed safety standards, and the presence of dangerous/toxic industrial materials and equipment.

Because of the local employment situation for expatriates, employers have additional responsibilities under Qatari law when an employee dies. In most cases, the employer is responsible for the repatriation of the deceased’s body and personal possessions (according to the specifics of the employment contract), and for coordination with the next of kin for their repatriation as well, if they are residing in Qatar under the deceased’s sponsorship.

Privacy Concerns

Qatari law mandates that surveillance cameras be installed at most public facilities, including residential compounds, hospitals, malls, and hotels. MOI receives this footage and stores it for security and investigation purposes. As a result, MOI monitors most visitors and residents via surveillance cameras. The government of Qatar also collects biometric data at the port of entry.

Personal Identity Concerns

Expatriate females have reported incidents of sexual harassment and assaults. In 2017 and 2018, reported alleged indecent exposure, sexual assault, and harassment of females to the RSO and the MOI. Expatriates, and particularly unaccompanied women, should exercise heightened situational awareness and vigilance whenever in a public place, especially in locations that serve alcoholic beverages, aboard public transportation, and in taxis. Travelers – especially females –perceived to be part of the migrant work force might face discrimination and harassment, often from other foreign residents.

Depending on regional developments, authorities might target individuals of certain nationalities for additional security screening and attention.

Homosexual expression and activity is illegal in Qatar.

Drug-related Crimes

Authorities have seized drugs through improved enforcement, greater emphasis on interdiction, and increased law enforcement capabilities to identify, monitor, track, and apprehend offenders. Seizures occurred primarily at ports of entry and in coastal waters during interdiction operations. Media reports have pointed to an apparent increase in drug seizures at the airport; cases have involved international drug smugglers using couriers to transport quantities of narcotics (e.g. hashish, cocaine, and methamphetamine). Qatar Airways Cargo is one of the largest cargo haulers in the world, making Qatar an increasingly attractive transit locale for drug smugglers.

Police Response

Qatar possesses enormous financial resources to purchase top-of-the-line law enforcement equipment, communications systems, and both private and governmental training. However, a small Qatari population limits recruitment possibilities, creating perpetual human resource shortfalls in the public safety and law enforcement fields. The majority of the uniformed enlisted MOI police forces are third-country nationals. Officers and decision makers are generally Qataris. This mixture of nationalities in the public safety field can present some command, control, and communications challenges.

Customer service, response, and investigative skills may not be at a level expected in the U.S. English-language skills of first responders may be lacking. Depending upon traffic density and other priorities, police response times in Doha can exceed 30 minutes. Response times can be even longer during local religious holidays (Ramadan, in particular), on weekends, and/or during hours of darkness. Major events may result in blocked roadways, further delaying responders. Nevertheless, police officers are generally professional, cooperative, and courteous when responding to U.S. citizen community requests for assistance, particularly when assisting and adjudicating traffic accidents and infractions.

Police officers, particularly patrol officers, public premises, and traffic police, do not make traffic stops as often as police in the U.S., relying on an extensive network of cameras for traffic enforcement. Police officers often remain in certain locations as a visual deterrence, not necessarily to perform response or incident management functions.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If arrested or detained, U.S. citizens should politely insist on speaking with a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy or, if after hours, with the Embassy's after-hours Duty Officer, who can be reached at (974) 4496-6000. U.S. citizens should not assume that the police have reported their arrest to the U.S. Embassy. A Consular Officer will visit the U.S. citizen within 24 to 72 hours of the initial notification. If a local attorney is required to assist, their fees can approach or exceed QR 30,000 (US$8,250) to consider the case.

Crime Victim Assistance

Contact the police for emergency assistance by dialing 999; English-speaking dispatchers routinely handle calls to this number, but language proficiency can vary. For local first responders, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

The MOI and the Internal Security Force (ISF, Lekhwiya) are primarily responsible for law enforcement and security.

Most residential compounds occupied by U.S. government and expatriate personnel also employ local security guards under contract with the compound’s management. Most compounds have varying degrees of physical and technical security systems, including various types of access control, vehicle placards/stickers, barrier systems, CCTV, and other countermeasures. Some compounds have local police (MOI Public Guards) assigned to provide deterrence/response.

The MOI/Al Fazaa police (Rescue Police) provide response units.

The MOI operates the National Command Center (NCC) in northern Doha. The NCC possesses sophisticated capabilities to respond to emergency calls, identify/monitor security incidents, and provide response coordination in the event of contingencies. All MOI entities are represented at the NCC, which operates on a 24/7 basis, 365 days per year. The NCC continues to expand its capabilities; it serves as the primary focal point for incident response and crisis management, and as a control center for major events.

Medical Emergencies

Depending upon traffic density and other service calls, ambulance response time in Doha can exceed 30 minutes. During local religious holidays (Ramadan, in particular), weekends, and/or after hours, response times could be longer. Relative to the region, responding crews are well equipped and well trained.

Fire/Police/Ambulance: Tel. 999

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Hamad Hospital operates an air medevac service as part of the government’s emergency medical service system.

Insurance Guidance

Before traveling, U.S. citizens should ensure they have comprehensive travel and medical insurance that will provide adequate coverage while in Qatar. Regardless of insurance coverage, many physicians and health care facilities will require payment with either cash or credit card before rendering service; medical treatment costs are expensive. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, Medical Evacuation: A Primer.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Qatar.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Doha meets monthly and has a diverse membership, including U.S.-owned and joint-venture firms from the energy and service sectors, academia, and the medical community. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Middle East and North Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Embassy in Doha is located in the Al-Luqta District, at 22nd February Street, P.O. Box 2399.

Absent local and U.S. declared holidays, the Embassy’s official workweek/hours are Sunday through Thursday, 0730-1600. The hours for routine American Citizen Services are 1300-1500 on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday by appointment.

Embassy Contact Numbers

The main Embassy phone number is (974) 4496-6000.

For after-hours emergencies, U.S. citizens should call (974) 4496-6000 for the on-call Duty Officer.

Website: https://qa.usembassy.gov

Embassy Guidance

The Embassy is ready at any time to assist U.S. citizens in genuine emergencies (e.g. deaths, sexual assaults, welfare of children). There is limited outside parking available for privately owned vehicles. Although virtually all taxis or Uber drivers can transport passengers to the Embassy, securing a taxi for pick-up from the Embassy can be complicated.

Travelers should regularly consult the Department's travel website for updated Travel Advisories. U.S. citizens living in or traveling to Qatar are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Enrolling in STEP gives the Embassy the ability to keep citizens updated with the latest safety and security information. In the event of an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or a family emergency, the Embassy will also be able to reach out to registrants with additional information.

Additional Resources

Qatar Information Sheet

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