Gone missing

  • Disappearance of two British Nepali rights workers in Qatar is worrying
Gone missing

Sep 4, 2014-

In September 2013, an investigative report by Britain’s The Guardian, explosively titled “Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’”, focussed international attention on the plight of migrant workers in the oil-rich Gulf country. Migrant labourers, mostly Nepalis, working on the construction of infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar, were forced to toil under inhuman ‘slave-like’ conditions with meagre pay, great workplace risk and a lack of basic amenities, including drinking water in the desert heat. More than 4,000 workers would die by the time construction finished, the paper predicted.  

Little seems to have changed since; over 50 Nepali migrant workers died in Qatar between January and April 2014 alone. Qatar, in May 2014, pledged to do away with key elements of its labour laws, including the country’s notorious kafala system of sponsorship, which ties workers to a single employer and accords the latter great power over the former in terms of movement, choice of employment and remuneration. But in the absence of detailed proposals, human rights and labour groups were rightly sceptical. For a follow-up report on migrant rights and Qatar’s promises, the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD), a Norwegian rights group, sent two British Nepali employees—researcher Krishna Prasad Upadhyaya and photographer Gundev Ghimire—to Qatar on August 27. Now, it appears that Upadhyaya and Ghimire have been ‘disappeared’. The duo “may have been subjected to enforced disappearance and are currently at risk of torture,” said GNRD in a statement. Upadhyaya and Ghimire had reported being closely shadowed by undercover Qatari police before going incommunicado four days ago, reported Britain’s The Independent newspaper.

Given the circumstances surrounding the duo’s disappearance, it would be safe to assume that they have been detained by Qatari police; Upadhyaya and Ghimire were investigating the treatment of migrant workers, a source of continued embarrassment for Qatar. Furthermore, holding detainees incommunicado for extended periods without formal charges or a trail is “standard practice” in Qatar, according to Amnesty International.

Nepal has a responsibility to call for Upadhyaya and Ghimire’s release; they are ethnic Nepalis and were investigating the mistreatment of Nepali workers, with assistance from the Nepali embassy. Nepal must demand that Qatar immediately make public Upadhyaya and Ghimire’s whereabouts. In this initiative, Nepal has a powerful ally, the United Kingdom, whose citizens the duo is. There is another worrying danger here. Nepalis hold much latent anger against exploitative employers in the Gulf, which manifested in a violent explosion of rage against Nepali foreign employment agencies and Arab properties in a 2004 riot after the killing of 14 Nepali migrant workers by militants in Iraq. The larger issue here, however, still concerns the continued suffering of Nepali workers. Clearly, Qatar has not done much to alleviate existing conditions and seems to have gone so far as to try and prevent another damaging investigation.

Published: 05-09-2014 09:31

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