Expats in Oman leave with heavy hearts as Covid pandemic bites

More than 63,000 moved out of country between January and last month

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As the Covid-19 pandemic hits, some of the tens of thousands of expatriates in Oman who lost jobs and businesses have been preparing to leave the country many have called home for years.

Mohammed Rafeeq, 56, whose furniture shop collapsed after more than 20 years, has been packing his bags to leave for good this weekend. He is heading to India.

“I have been here for 22 years and my business went well until the pandemic ruined everything for me,” Mr Rafeeq, who had a shop in the Ruwi area of Muscat, told The National.

“It is hard for me to leave Oman and to say goodbye to many friends, not only my compatriots but my Omani colleagues as well,” he said.

More than 63,000 expatriates left Oman between January and last month, according to figures released by the state-run National Centre for Statistics and Information.

Oman’s population is 4,416,603 as of September 4, with 2,778,872 Omanis and 1,637,731 expatriates.

About 33 per cent of the expatriates who left the country this year are Indian nationals, with Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans the next largest groups.

Ahmed Saleem, a construction pipefitter, has been knocking on many friends' doors in the last three days to say goodbye.

“I came to Oman in 1993 as a 19-year-old teenager and now I am leaving a middle-aged man. I lived more years in Oman than the country of my birth. You can imagine how hard it is for me to say goodbye to the country where I spent a big part of my youth,” Mr Saleem said.

“I made many friends but, unfortunately, I have to leave because my company is downsizing its business,” Mr Saleem, who was a supervisor at Al Sinani Construction Company, told The National.

Those who are lucky enough not to receive their notice of job termination live in constant anxiety about their future.

“I have lost count of how many times friends have said goodbye to me this year. Each time they do that, they leave a hole in my heart. They also remind me that I might be next to lose my job,” said Pakistani national Sadiq Khan, 51, who has been a teacher for 17 years in Muscat.

Human resources managers are braced for more departures.

“We expect more expatriates to leave this year. Covid-19 has hit hard most businesses in Oman." Mohammed Al-Hamdani, an HR manager at Sharqiyah Transportation, told the National.

“Companies know that it is not acceptable to sack Omanis so I am afraid they are left with no choice but to lay off expatriates to make ends meet,” he said.

Staff at Muscat Airport have been busy all summer catering for the departing expatriates and their cargo.

“There has been a hike of departing passengers, mainly expatriates, this summer, by about 25 per cent compared to other months this year. Most of these flights are to the Indian subcontinent countries,” said Ammar Zadjali of Oman Airports Managing Company.

Most were a one-way ticket.

Updated: November 01, 2021, 12:25 PM