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Qatar 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Near East > Qatar

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Qatar has been assessed as Level 1: 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.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Doha as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

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 prepares for the 2022 World Cup, Doha is saturated with a massive number of construction projects and economic activity. With a steady influx of migrant workers, Qatar’s population continued to increase to over 2.64 million people in December 2017, 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

According to the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017, 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 expatriates often do not report crimes for fear of deportation and to avoid legal proceedings.

The country reports a low number of violent incidents and crime. 2015 data from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) showed that registered homicides were 97.5% lower than the global average. No other official statistical data for homicides and other violent crime is publicly available subsequent to 2015, although murders and violent crime are believed to remain well below the global average. Violent crime targeting U.S. and other Western expatriates, although relatively rare, does occur. Government authorities indicate that rates of other crimes (kidnapping, assault, arson) are low compared to 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.

Incidents of vehicle break-ins, theft, and motor vehicle theft (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 have been established to house the large, resident, foreign, “blue-collar,” labor pool. These areas tend to have higher incidents of crime. Moreover, large numbers of foreign workers congregate in certain areas of Doha and its environs during 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, ethnic groups comprised of young male laborers and are not generally directed against Western expatriates. The government is adept at deporting guest workers who might be involved in crimes or are deemed to pose a threat to public safety. Since foreign workers tend to fear deportation, crimes committed by Qataris against foreign workers (domestic staff) are believed to go unreported. Violent crime is more prevalent within the third-country national labor camps and the industrial areas. Edged weapons are available and, along with blunt instruments, are often the weapon of choice. Improvised weapons (tools, sports equipment, construction materials) are frequently used in targeted instances of violence by one group of third-country nationals against another. These altercations are often the result of specific disputes that are 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. Corporate disputes over business practices are also frequently reported. 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.

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. MDPS reported a 73% increase in cybercrimes in 2016 compared to 2015. According to the IMF, Qatar is among the two countries in the GCC and a very few 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 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 Emir calling Iran a “superpower,” lauding Hamas and speculating that President Trump might not last long in power. Though the story was taken down, the website was shut down and has still not re-opened.

Internet-based scams involving unsuspecting victims in Qatar have been reported to the RSO and MOI in 2017. The U.S. Embassy’s logo and phone numbers were used by fraudsters 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 which maintains a reporting and analysis coordination effort. Q-CERT works to address the cybersecurity threats to provide protection to minimize the risks from hackers, malware, and more malicious actors (terrorists, organized criminal networks, industrial, and foreign government espionage) to 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. The MOI is charged with investigating and prosecuting cybercrimes, which fall under its criminal investigation jurisdiction and under Qatari law that can include defamation and use of the Internet for a wide range of criminal purposes. In January 2016, the MOI opened a new headquarters of its Cybercrime Combating Centre, which 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.

Other Areas of Concern

It is not unusual for private watercraft to be stopped and boarded by the Qatari Coast Guard (MOI’s General Directorate of Coasts and Borders Security) and/or Navy 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, is increasingly strained due to 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, and efforts are underway to replace the roundabouts with traffic intersections. As of December 2017, most major roundabouts within Doha’s city limits have been replaced with four-way intersections controlled by proper traffic signals.

Construction on roads is often poorly marked and can present a safety hazard, and the presence of unmarked speed bumps can cause loss of control of vehicles if hit at high speed. Outside of Doha, the roadways vary from very good to poor condition. Some are not properly illuminated and may also 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 the winter when rains occur.

Participating in off-road desert excursions can be dangerous, so it is better left to the experienced "off-road" driver with a suitably equipped four-wheel drive (4x4) vehicle.

Drivers displaying varying degrees of skill, aggressiveness, and attentiveness often maneuver erratically and at high speed, demonstrating little road discipline or courtesy. Drivers often fail to use turn signals and may neglect to turn on their 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 that are not monitored by the comprehensive traffic enforcement system of radars, sensors, and photo/video monitoring systems to enforce speed limits and red light controls. Even with these increased controls, compliance at non-controlled intersections and along unmonitored roads is poor, resulting in 6,142 reported accidents in 2016. 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 who are unaccustomed to Qatar’s liberal rules of the road and who lose their temper and engage in road rage could face severe civil and/or criminal penalties, or (in rare cases) be subject to a travel ban, preventing 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.”

Fines for traffic violations can be high compared to in the U.S. Failure to stop at a red light can result in a fine in excess of 6,000 Qatari Riyal (over US$1,600). This fine may be levied for stopping over the solid white line at an intersection, even without running the red light. 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 considered impaired. Offenders will be detained, arrested, and required to pay heavy civil/criminal fines and other penalties. Immediate deportation/expulsion is also common.

If involved in a minor vehicular accident, the accident can be reported via an MOI app named “Metrash 2.” After taking four photos of each vehicle, the vehicles need to be moved off of 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, the vehicles involved should not be moved. It is also a criminal offense to leave the scene of an accident. In accidents with property damage, it is imperative that a police report be filed 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

The use of metered fares for a taxi should be established prior to entering the vehicle. Uber is available and increasingly 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, and women 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 also take note of the vehicle and driver information in the event of harassment. All harassment should be reported immediately to the police.

There is a public bus system running limited routes throughout Doha that is most heavily used 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 connecting Lusail City to Doha. Construction is expected to be completed in 2019.

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 Hamad International Airport (HIA) and conducts Global Entry interviews at its airport office upon appointment.

HIA opened in 2014 and is one of the world’s busiest civil aviation hubs for transit flights, with an estimated 90% of all travelers passing through HIA in transit status. Qatar aviation officials reported that the biggest threat faced by the travelling public at HIA 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 the overhead baggage areas to steal passports, money, and other valuable items.

In December 2016, the MOI announced that expatriates could use E-gate services at HIA, 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 biometric data stored on the card.

Other Travel Conditions

When chartering any local watercraft (dhows, in particular), motor boats, or jet skis for recreational excursions, it is recommended to 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. The Gulf's waters are heavily traversed by commercial and military vessels and are laced with many offshore oil and gas rigs, sunken platforms, and artificial atolls.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Doha as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

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. The possibility of a terrorist attack against U.S. interests cannot be dismissed.

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.

Anti-American/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

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Doha as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

Public protests and/or demonstrations are rare. Demonstrations usually occur only with the prior approval from the government, and tight controls are imposed on the event organizers.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The climate is extreme and unforgiving for several months of the year.

Throughout the year, but especially in the spring, Qatar is subject to dust storms that can emerge quickly, causing white-out 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 to occur, with the days generally being mild and the evenings relatively cold at 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius).

Qatar is in an earthquake zone. Buildings on any reclaimed property or landfills are often not fully evaluated for structural integrity and are more susceptible to damage from natural acts (flash flooding or earthquakes).

Critical Infrastructure

Residential apartments and villas are usually not equipped with substantial insulation, lack water-proofing, 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.

Privacy Concerns

Qatari law mandates that surveillance cameras be installed at most public facilities, including residential compounds, hospitals, malls, and hotels. As a result, most visitors and residents are subjected to being monitored via surveillance cameras. The government of Qatar also collects biometric data at the port of entry.

Personal Identity Concerns

There have been reported incidents of sexual harassment and assaults targeting expatriate females. In 2017, crimes alleging indecent exposure and sexual assaults were reported to the RSO and the MOI. Expatriates, and particularly unaccompanied women, should exercise heightened situational awareness and vigilance whenever in a public place and when using public transportation, including taxis. Travelers, especially females, perceived to be part of the “blue-collar” migrant work force might face discrimination and harassment, often from other foreign residents.

Depending on regional developments, certain nationalities might be targeted for additional security screening and attention.

Homosexuality is illegal.

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 the past couple of years of drug seizures at the airport; cases have involved international drug smugglers using couriers to transport quantities of narcotics (hashish, cocaine, and methamphetamine).

  • In August 2017, a Sri Lankan Airlines flight attendant was arrested at HIA for allegedly carrying narcotics substances in his suitcase.

  • In March 2017, Qatar General Authorization of Customs seized 66 kg of marijuana, 8 kg of hashish, and 5,600 pills from travelers arriving at HIA.

Local media reports that as HIA grows into a world transit hub, Qatar is becoming an increasingly attractive route for drug smugglers.

Police Response

Qatar possesses enormous financial resources that have been used to purchase top-of-the-line law enforcement equipment, communications systems, and both private and governmental training. However, a small Qatari population limits the amount of manpower that can be recruited, creating perpetual shortfalls in the public safety and law enforcement fields. The majority of the uniformed enlisted police forces working within the MOI are third-country nationals. Officers 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 5-30+ 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 are often assigned to locations mainly 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

The police may be contacted for emergency assistance by dialing 999; English speaking dispatchers are routinely assigned to handle calls to this number, but their language proficiency can vary. According to the MOI Emergency Services Section, the emergency line received 1,132,627 calls during the first half of 2017, which included request for traffic services, diseases, injuries, complaints, fire incidents, and other personal assistance.

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 who are 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, CCTVs, 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 and serves as the primary focal point for incident response, 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 be 5-30+ 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 considered to be well-equipped and 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-country. 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 considered expensive.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Doha Country Council meets monthly and has a diverse membership of approximately 60 organizations, including U.S-owned or joint venture firms from the energy sector, service sector organizations, 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 on 22nd February Street, P.O. Box 2399.

Absent local and U.S. declared holidays, the official workweek/hours that the Embassy follows are Sun-Thurs, 0730-1600. The hours for routine American Citizen Services are 1300-1500 on Sun, Tues, Wed, and Thu 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 to be transferred to 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 (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 to 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