Editorial

The situation for migrant workers has not improved in Qatar

Jun 11, 2019-

It has been almost six years since an exposé by The Guardian revealed to the world the human rights violations and slavery-like conditions that migrant workers--many of them Nepali--suffered at the hands of Qatari employers. The report received widespread coverage the world over, since the workers were mainly employed to work in harsh conditions to complete stadiums for Qatar’s controverisal World Cup 2022. Reeling from the bad press, Qatar promised to ensure improvements to working conditions, including ending the controversial Kafala system. However, as a new report by the German broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln (WRK) has exposed, Qatar has done little to improve the situation, and many Nepalis are still trapped in the Gulf country--without pay and without a way to escape. The situation is horrendous, and unimaginable. The Qatari goverment must be held responsible for the actions of firms acting to complete national projects under its purview. The Nepali government must pressure Qatar in whatever way possible to intervene on behalf of its citizens.

Of the millions of Nepalis that are currently in foreign employment, nearly half a million are hosted by Qatar. A large part of this is due to the construction boom in Qatar relating to the 2022 World Cup--with the need to build stadiums and other infrastructure. And while it is a popular destination, Qatar is also one of the most hostile destinations for migrant workers. In the decade between 2008 and 2018, 1,326 Nepali workers died in Qatar. And many more have faced severe trauma and hardships, being forced to work in unsafe conditions.

A lot of the problem had been attributed to the old Kafala system that Qatar had in place. Under this system, employers--whether local firms or citizens--had to sponspor foreign migrants, so that the migrants’ residency and work permits were controlled by their employers, leaving them to exploitation. After severe criticisms from the world over, Qatar promised reforms. In 2016, it abolished the Kafala system. However, the much touted reforms have been called a sham by the Human Rights Watch. Not only was the new system similar to Kafala, they even allowed employers to confiscate and withhold their worker’s passports legally--something that had been illegal under the old system. Qatar has offered reforms multiple times since, and yet the situation has not improved for the thousands suffering under horrible work and living conditions in unbearably high temperatures.

The recent exposé by WRK showed the faces of defeated Nepalis, living in abject misery. The workers complained about being forced to work in unsafe conditions; unable to leave because of their passports being confiscated, and not having been paid by their employers. The report also showed the lengths the authorities had gone to hide the conditions: people conducting interviews or visiting the lodgings of the migrant workers without permission faced arrest.

Such deplorable conditions should not exist. The world needs to hold Qatar accountable for failing to reform their employment structure, despite being reprimanded by non-governmental organisations and exposed by the media multiple times. In the past decade, Nepal has received Rs4.48 trillion as remittance from its migrant workers. It cannot continue to benefit off the backs of its citizens while failing to protect their interests. It must use diplomatic channels and platforms in intergovernmental organisations to put pressure on Qatar to reform. The harsh reality is that, for the time being, a large number of Nepalis have to continue to rely on foreign employment. However, the government must focus on creating jobs at home in the long-term.

 

Published: 12-06-2019 06:30

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