Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Department of State assesses the crime rate in Qatar to be low. However, according to recent reports released by Qatar’s Ministry of Interior (MoI), crime within Qatar has increased substantially since 2005. Qatar’s MOI recorded a total of 923 criminal cases in 2005 and 3,976 cases during 2006 - an increase of 330 percent. Between 2005 and 2006, there was a 237 percent increase in the number of suspects arrested (from 1,096 to 3,702). Some of this increase can be explained by better reporting mechanisms and statistical tracking. That said, 2008 numbers are even more compelling, with 8,527 arrests for residency permit violations alone. Of these, 6,610 (77 percent) were subsequently deported.
Given the massive number of construction projects and enormous economic activity ongoing throughout Qatar, and in particular in and around Doha and the Industrial/Energy producing areas, foreign labor camps have been established to house/contain the large foreign labor pool resident in Qatar. These areas tend to have higher incidents of crime than other areas. Further, during the weekends and after hours, some parts of Doha are off-limits to expat families, unaccompanied females, and minor-aged children due to over-crowding and large numbers of foreign male laborers.
Recent media reporting indicates that the overall murder rate in Qatar is 0.5 for every 100,000 residents, whereas the global average based on United Nations data is four per 100,000. Local media has also highlighted a small spike in both commercial and residential burglaries, as well as an increase in petty street crime. The burglary rate in Qatar is 25 per 100,000 inhabitants, while the global average is 100 per 100,000 (25%).
These activities occur primarily during hours of darkness and/or when Western expats are away from their homes for extended periods of time. Post has received reports that criminal elements sometimes enter villas located on non-Embassy residential compounds to burglarize them. Local media reporting has previously suggested the rise in burglaries is due to an increase in the number of absconding workers. Incidents of vehicle break-ins do occur as crimes of opportunity, but are rare in guarded and gated residential communities. More often, theft is from vehicles left unattended and unsecured in known tourist locations such as the several Souks and shopping malls located throughout Doha. The Government of Qatar (GOQ) is monitoring crime trends carefully, and is making every effort to keep pace with improved enforcement capabilities. The GOQ is also becoming more efficient at deporting unemployed workers; an effort aimed to reduce the population of a demographic that is known to commit a higher frequency of crime, according to available statistics.
Other reported crimes include, but are not limited to, thefts, burglary, robbery, ATM and credit card theft and fraud, embezzlement, murder, vehicle theft, physical assaults, illegal narcotics, international identity theft, violations of an array of immigration and residency laws, pandering and begging, and other crimes related to the use of the internet. Corporate disputes over business practices are also frequently reported.
Between 2005-2006 large quantities of illicit drugs were seized in and around Qatar by local authorities due to increased enforcement and greater interdiction capabilities. These seizures occurred primarily at ports of entry and in the maritime (Coast Guard) domain. Seizures included hashish (557kg), heroin (1,449kg), opium (6,868kg), Al Kat (414kg) and various drug tablets (2,933kg). According to United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reporting, Qatar continues to grow as a center for contraband trafficking. However, Qatar’s Coast Guard has reported a small decrease in maritime drug seizures between 2008-2009, likely indicating that the GOQ’s increased interdiction capability, to include better rules of engagement and surface monitoring coastal radars, has contributed to the decline in maritime smuggling activity along Qatar's extended coastline.
The GOQ has created a National Command Center (NCC), which possesses sophisticated capabilities to respond to police calls, security incidents, and other contingencies. The NCC is well-resourced to provide incident response and management.
The surge in crime may be influenced by the massive influx of expatriates who do not always understand or respect Qatar’s customs and traditions. Additionally, the growth in crime can be attributed to the continued rise in the cost of living in Qatar and throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Qatar’s official inflation figure is around 14 percent - the highest in the GCC - and has produced a dramatic cost of living increase, reducing real wages of expatriates working in the country. This continued cash crunch has also led both Qatari nationals and expatriate workers to engage in various illicit activities such as visa trade, pick-pocketing (particularly in crowded locales), unauthorized real estate businesses, and illegal private taxi services.
Violent crime is present in Qatar, especially within the third country national (TCN) labor camps and the industrial areas, but is not common. The GOQ has reported that most instances of violent crime are between and among certain ethnic groups that are comprised of young male laborers. Some violence is directed at certain demographic groups. Additional crimes of violence exist, but are rare, between Qatari nationals and/or by Qataris against foreign workers, such as domestic staff. Recent media reporting that is based on GOQ figures indicates that rates of crimes such as kidnapping, assaults, and arson are comparatively low, and that the collective rate for these crimes is five (x5) per 100,000 while the world average is eight (x8) per 100,000.
Improvised weapons, to include edged and blunted objects, are frequently used in targeted TCN violence that is confined to industrial neighborhoods and labor camps. These incidents occasionally occur near commercial business fronts where criminals can routinely locate and/or create burglary tools and other cutting instruments.
Incidents of terrorist-related violence are rare throughout Qatar, although harassment and attacks against Western targets have occurred. On March 19, 2005, a suicide-bomb attack occurred outside a theater frequented primarily by westerners, resulting in two deaths and at least 12 injured. All should be aware of the ongoing threat from terrorism. Terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate, and against Western, including American, interests and sites.
Single female visitors/residents report increasing incidents of harassment by Qatari men and other Third Country Nationals (TCNs). Therefore, it is recommended that women should avoid traveling alone to souks (market areas) after dark and should never ride in the front seat of a taxi.
Practicing good security measures can help reduce the risk of becoming a victim. To provide for public security, a large police presence is deployed throughout the country utilizing both uniformed and plain-clothed officers.
Driving in Qatar can be dangerous. Drivers often maneuver erratically and at high speed, demonstrate little road discipline or courtesy, fail to turn on their headlights during hours of darkness or inclement weather, and do not use seat belts - all resulting in a high vehicular accident rate (in excess of 100,000 per annum). In fact, traffic fatalities are Qatar's leading cause of death. According to the recent issue of the Annual Bulletin of Vital Statistics, a majority (52.1 percent) of the victims of vehicle accidents are below 30 years of age. According to the bulletin, out of 242 deaths due to vehicular accidents in 2007, 91.4 percent were males. Foreigners who lose their temper and engage in road rage could face civil and/or criminal penalties, or even a travel ban preventing the offender/traveler from departing the country until the matter is resolved to the offended party's satisfaction.
Public intoxication and/or driving while under the influence of alcohol or other substances are not tolerated by Qatari authorities. Offenders will be detained, arrested and, at a minimum, have to pay heavy civil and/or criminal fines and other penalties; this could include expulsion from the country.
The existing road network in metro Doha, though generally in good repair, is increasingly strained and unable to handle current traffic levels. This is exacerbated by the use of dated UK-styled traffic roundabouts. Outside of Doha the roadways range between average to poor, are rarely lit, and unshouldered, are subject to wandering animals in the road, and frequently are muddy or washed out during the winter rainy season. If you are involved in a vehicular accident, and if you can safely do so, remain with the vehicle at the scene until the police arrive. It is a criminal offense to leave the scene of an accident, and you will not be able to have your car repaired or collect on any insurance claim without the police report.
If residents and/or visitors are involved in a vehicular accident they should move the vehicles to the side of the road but remain with the vehicles at the scene until the police arrive. The traffic law of October 2007 stipulates a 1500 Qatari Riyal (USD 412) fine for anyone who blocks traffic after a minor vehicular accident. However, if the cause of the accident is disputed or if a party is injured, then the vehicles involved should not be moved.
Participating in off-road desert excursions can be dangerous and is better left to the experienced "off-roader" with a suitably equipped four-wheel drive vehicle. Always have a travel plan/itinerary which can be shared with colleagues or family members who will stay behind; always travel with one or more other appropriately equipped vehicles; and always carry extra potable water, food, first aid equipment, excavating gear, and layered clothing suitable for the variable temperatures. Someone in the party should have a mobile/satellite phone and GPS locator, if possible
The embassy and State Department assess the risk from political violence as low in Qatar. However, ongoing developments in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the the Middle East affect local public opinion and conversations. Public protests and/or demonstrations are rare, and usually occur only with the prior approval of the government. In the past year, there have been no known politically motivated acts of violence directed at either Americans or American-branded businesses. U.S. citizens should take reasonable precautions at all times regarding their personal safety by avoiding large public gatherings and demonstrations.
Earthquakes: Qatar, like most of the Gulf states, is within an earthquake zone. Though under-evaluated, structures of any type built on landfills would be particularly susceptible to liquefaction should there be an earthquake epicentered in Iran or elsewhere in the region.
Maritime Safety: All should exercise care and caution before chartering any local watercraft (dhows, in particular) for recreational excursions. Safety procedures and protocols are not generally up to U.S. Coast Guard standards. Specifically, there may not be adequate numbers of and/or accessibility to life jackets. The Persian Gulf's waters are heavily traveled by commercial and military craft and have many offshore oil and gas rigs. Therefore, it is not unusual to hear of private watercraft being stopped and boarded by the Qatar Coast Guard and/or Navy for straying into sensitive or restricted zones.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents: Industrial and public safety standards are below western standards, and workplace accidents are more common in Qatar. Roads often have unrepaired pot holes and obstacles, as well as unmarked speed bumps that can cause loss of control of vehicles if hit at a high rate of speed.
Weather: During the summer months (April to October), temperatures can average between 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) and 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). The average humidity level is 90 percent. During the winter months (December to February) rain showers are more likely, with the days generally mild and evenings occasionally cold. Residential apartments and villas usually have little to no insulation, lack water-proofing, and often have no interior heat. Throughout the year, especially in the spring, Qatar is subject to sandstorms which can come on quite suddenly and violently.
The majority of the uniformed police forces in Qatar are TCNs; from time to time this presents command, control, and communication challenges for their Qatari national leadership. Customer service and basic investigative skills may not be at a level one would expect from EU, UK, Australia, or North American police forces. English language skills of first responders may be lacking and one should not expect the on-scene officer(s) proactively to place himself in harm's way. Depending upon traffic density and other service calls, police response time in Doha can range from five to twenty minutes. However, response times can be longer during local religious holidays (Ramadan, in particular), on weekends, and/or after hours. Nevertheless, relative to elsewhere in the Gulf, Qatari police officers are generally professional, cooperative, and courteous when responding to American community requests for assistance, particularly when assisting and adjudicating traffic accidents and infractions.
Police officers, particularly patrol officers and public premises traffic police, are somewhat passive in terms of exercising their duties to serve and protect. Some are complacent and are not alert at their posts, lack proper training, and are often ill-equipped for their assigned duties. For example, police officers are often assigned to locations solely as a visual and psychological deterrence and not to respond to incidents.
Neighborhood associations do not exist in Qatar. However, most residential compounds that are occupied by U.S. government and expatriate personnel employ local security guards under contract. Most compounds have varying degrees of physical and technical security, including access control, vehicle stickers, barrier systems, CCTVs, and other countermeasures. Some compounds have local police (MOI Public Guards) assigned to provide deterrence and response. There is no community policing program in Qatar since this function is largely absorbed by private security in residential neighborhoods with expats.
The GOQ has recently enacted legislation that will allow private security companies to apply to arm their security officers. This is intended to privatize some security functions and alleviate the burden on the police force, which is constantly struggling with recruiting and retention issues. The capabilities of GOQ law enforcement have also increased in recent years. Relying heavily on technology to leverage manpower shortfalls, the GOQ is ahead of its neighbors in terms of technology-based law enforcement, but still lacks the skilled manpower and experience in investigating sophisticated types of fraud to fully meet all of the law enforcement challenges it faces. However, in general, the overall crime rate remains moderate to low by U.S. and other western standards.
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 Duty Officer who can be reached at 974 488-4101 ext. 6600. Do not assume your arrest has been reported to U.S. Embassy Doha by the Qatari police. A consular officer will then visit the U.S. citizen within 24 to 72 hours of the initial notification. If a local attorney is required to assist in any civil/criminal proceeding, their professional fees could approach and/or exceed QR 30,000 (US $8,250) to consider the case.
From anywhere in Qatar, the police may be contacted for emergency assistance by dialing 999.
Before traveling to Qatar on business or pleasure, U.S. citizens should ensure they have comprehensive travel and medical insurance which will provide adequate coverage while in-country. Expatriates usually have a health/medical plan through their sponsor or employer. 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.
Depending upon traffic density and other service calls, ambulance response time in Doha usually ranges between 10 and 20 minutes. During local religious holidays (Ramadan, in particular), weekends, and/or after hours, response times could be longer. Relative to the Gulf, responding crews are considered to be well-equipped, and -trained. However, patients may find that their actual experience will vary and whatever observable internationally benchmarked standards to which the paramedics were trained may not be readily apparent. Patients will in most cases be transported to the government-owned Hamad Hospital Emergency Room for triage and treatment. Purportedly, Hamad Hospital's ER was recently rated as the busiest in the world by an accreditation committee. Emergency care is assessed to be adequate; however, secondary care does not meet Western standards. For this reason many expatriates and visitors choose to visit the Al Emadi Hospital, Doha Clinic Hospital, or Al Ahli Hospital. Presently, there is no civilian air medevac helicopter service in Qatar. However, there are efforts underway to address this.
Fire/Police/Ambulance: Tel. 999
Hamad Hospital Emergency Room: Tel. 439-2333 http://www.hmc.org.qa
Doha Clinic Hospital: Tel. 438-4211
Al Emadi Hospital: Tel. 466-6009
Al Ahli Hospital: Tel. 489-8901
Medical websites for further reference:
For additional information, all travelers should regularly consult the Department's travel website at http://travel.state.gov and/or the embassy's site at http://qatar.usembassy.gov.
Travel websites for further reference:
OSAC - www.osac.gov
Travelers are encouraged to read the latest Consular Information Sheet for Qatar which can be found at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis.
Stateside, one can call: 1-888-407-4747 toll free or 1-202-501-4444 toll-line.
How to Contact the American Embassy
The embassy staff takes seriously its mandate to provide services to American citizens abroad. The hours for routine American Citizen Services are Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. We are ready to assist American citizens in the event of genuine emergencies, such as an arrest, death or life-threatening injury, at any time.
During normal working hours American citizens may call (974) 496-6117 or email ACSCONSULARDoHA@state.gov. For after-hours emergencies, U.S. citizens should call (974) 496-6000, to be transferred to the on-call duty officer. On the Internet, you may reach the Embassy website at http://qatar.usembassy.gov for additional information and operating hours. Absent local and U.S. declared holidays, the official workweek/hours which the Embassy follows is Sunday through Thursday, 7:30 am to 4:00 pm.
U.S. Embassy Doha is located in the Al-Luqta District on 22nd February Street, P.O. Box 2399. Drivers should note that the municipality road network in/around the embassy is undergoing an extensive construction project which could disrupt easy access to the site for the next three years. Additionally, there is little outside parking available to privately owned vehicles. Although virtually all taxis in town can get you to the embassy with relative ease, getting a taxi to pick you up from the embassy may be problematic.
The main embassy phone number is (974) 488-4101, and once connected simply follow the voice prompts.
OSAC Country Council
Qatar’s OSAC Country Council was chartered in May 2004. It enjoys an active private sector-led council which is predominantly made up of U.S.-owned or joint venture firms from the energy sector (i.e. oil and gas). However, Qatar’s OSAC Council is showing greater diversity in its membership by welcoming a number of service sector organizations into its ranks, especially those from academia and the medical community. In 2007, the OSAC Doha Steering Committee partnered with the British Embassy's SISBO (Security Information Service for Businesses Overseas) Coordinator in an attempt to extend further our partnership in providing information on a wide range of security issues which U.S. or UK businesses may jointly face when operating in Qatar. Furthermore, many within the local OSAC chapter also are active in the ASIS International chapter. Twice per annum the two organizations jointly meet in an effort to further professional development in the field of security management, to mentor others, and to enhance networking opportunities.
Security representatives of companies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) doing business in Qatar are encouraged to contact OSAC Headquarters soonest to learn of security-related issues relevant to their business plans. The contact number in Washington, DC is 1 (571) 345-2222. Following this, the embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO) may be contacted to see if a follow-on appointment is warranted. The contact number for the RSO is (974) 496-6069; Fax: (974) 496-6743.
Recommended Daily Security Habits and Practices:
· Vary your times and routes to and from work.
· Keep your doors locked and windows closed (residence and vehicle).
· Check the interior and exterior of your vehicle prior to approaching/entering it. Look for things that are irregular or abnormal.
· Maintain a low profile by not doing anything that draws attention to yourself.
· Do not flaunt your (relative) wealth.
· Identify and report to your corporate designated security representative any police vehicles or persons possibly involved in surveillance of your activities.
· Stay alert to what is going on around you.
· Avoid political, religious, or other demonstrations or gatherings.
· Keep abreast of the local and regional political scene using the media.
· Carry only the minimum amount of cash that you need for the day.
· Alert your colleagues and family to your daily plans and how to reach you.
· Always be aware of your surroundings. Report all suspicious activity to your corporate security representative or the police.
· Avoid unlit streets at night.
· In traffic, always attempt to leave space in which to maneuver. Always leave yourself an exit. Be prepared to take evasive action at any time.
· If you are being followed or harassed by another driver, try to find the nearest police station, hotel, or other public facility to call the police. Never lead the person back to your home.
· Never resist violent theft.
· Vary your days for shopping, errands, and personal needs. Be unpredictable with your personal routines.
Keep the following in mind while traveling:
· Leave your valuables and spare cash in the hotel safe or other secure place.
· Always pack your own baggage and never leave it unattended.
· Should you lose your hotel room key card, bear in mind that information stored on it may include your name, partial home address, hotel room, check-in and check-out dates, and credit card number expiration date.
· Notify hotel security of any suspicious activity.
· Do not leave valuables in the room unattended.
· Keep doors locked at all times.
· Use the optical viewer before opening the door.
· Keep at least two bottles of water in your room in case of emergency.
· Travel in a group (3-5) and avoid travel when alone at night.
· Be familiar with the routes when moving to and from locations.
· Dress conservatively when in Qatar and avoid revealing clothing, especially for females.
· Do not discuss work and related issues in public.
· Avoid unfamiliar areas of town when alone.
· The use of metered fares for a taxi should be established prior to entering the vehicle. Limousine services are the preferred means for females traveling to and from hotels and females should always sit in the back seat, never in the front seat. When using public taxis or limousine services, do not allow the driver to pick up additional passengers along the way.
· Should you encounter a hostile or verbally abusive individual, leave the scene quickly, move to a public area (restaurant, stor,e or hotel) and immediately notify the police and Embassy.
· Always remember to carry appropriate forms of identification with you at all times.
· Follow the directions of the host nation police and obey all local traffic laws.
· Always carry a cellular phone but utilize a hands-free device while driving.
· When traveling at night be sure someone knows where you are going and when you are expected back.
· Keep bottles of water in your vehicle.