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April 7, 2016

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Amnesty accuses Qatar of abuse of migrant workers

Image credit: Juandc_Flickr

Image credit: Juandc_Flickr

Amnesty International has accused Qatar of exploiting and abusing migrant workers who make up at least 90% of its workforce.

The human rights group has exposed how changes in the highly-criticised ‘kafala’ system still leave migrant workers exposed to unsafe conditions.

After more than a year of debate, at the end of last year, Qatar announced changes to the kafala sponsorship system, which requires workers to seek approval from their sponsor’s in order to take up another job.

Under the changed system, migrant workers still have to get approval in order to change jobs or leave the country, but they are able to appeal the decision to refuse them an exit permit.

In addition, the new regime is not enforceable until the end of 2016.

The Amnesty report also commented on construction workers living in dirty, overcrowded and often unsafe conditions.

The report cited: “workers employed by large companies… complained of chronic labour abuse such as inadequate housing, low pay and late payment of wages” in addition to the restrictions that the kafala system placed on them leaving the country or changing jobs.

The Qatari government had said it would build new facilities to house up to 258,000 workers by the end of this year. In August last year, it had completed the construction of housing for 50,000 workers.

Qatar is also being accused of using forced labour at the Khalifa International Stadium, which is being constructed in time for the 2022 World Cup stadium.

According to a report on the BBC, Qatar has said that it is “concerned” by the allegations and would investigate contractors named in the report.

To build its report, Amnesty International interviewed 231 mostly South Asian migrant workers, 132 working at the stadium and 99 working on green spaces in the surrounding Aspire sports complex.

Among the reported abuses migrant workers said they were:

  • required to pay fees of up to $4,300 to recruiters in their home country to get a job in Qatar;
  • squalid and cramped accommodation;
  • threatened for complaining about their conditions.

Amnesty called on sponsors of the World Cup, like Adidas, Coca Cola and McDonald’s to put pressure on Fifa to tackle the issue.

“If FIFA’s new leadership is serious about turning a page, it cannot allow its showcase global event to take place in stadiums built on the abuse of migrant workers,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary.

Fifa released a statement saying it has been meeting with key groups, including Amnesty International to discuss fair working conditions on the sites.

“This is an ongoing process,” Fifa said in the statement. “Challenges remain, but Fifa is confident that the structures and processes set up so far by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is the entity responsible for the delivery of Fifa World Cup infrastructure, provide a good basis to monitor labour rights of migrant workers.”

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Daryl Andrews
Daryl Andrews

This practice is not isolated or restricted to Qatar. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and most other Arab countries are guilty of abusing these migrant workers. One needs to see the queus at the arrivals halls in places like Riyadh to witness how sad the situation really is – and that is their first taste of what is to come.
The situation is very sad, and should be classified as a crime against humanity. FIFA are not the only culprits, and most major organisations operating in the region should be doing their part in uplifting these poor souls.

John Mac
John Mac

I’ve worked in the MENA region for many years. Sadly this practice is not confined to Qatar, nor is it exclusive to Qatar.
Most of the GCC states still practice this form of slavery in the 21st Century. A huge percentage of these countries’ workforces are migrants, and most of them suffer some form of abuse and lack basic human rights.
The abuses of domestic workers (maids) are particularly distressing and appear with depressing regularity in the local press. I suspect that those cases which are publicised are just the tip of the iceberg.