Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Joachim Veliocas
Joachim Veliocas

UN lashes out at Qatar for violating rights of migrant workers

Friday 17/July/2020 - 03:59 PM

United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Tendayi Achiume, paid a visit to Doha between November 23 and December 1, 2019, at an invitation from the Qatari government.

The results of Achiume's visit to Qatar were released during the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council between June 15 and July 3 this year.

She expressed deep concern about racial discrimination among workers in work sites in Qatar, the country that will host the next FIFA World Cup in 2022.

Achiume said workers working in the construction of the Gulf country's World Cup facilities and projects receive meager salaries and suffer discrimination and exploitation.

Violations against foreign workers in Qatar are on the rise, ten years after this state won the bid for hosting the world's most important soccer championship. Some of the workers do not receive their salaries and others work in inappropriate conditions. The same workers are subjected to racial stereotyping at the hands of Qatari police. They are deprived of accessing some places, according to Achiume's report.

UN observers accompanying Achiume also noticed that African workers suffer discrimination when it comes to educational and social services. They also noticed that some ethnic minorities are dealt with violently.

They also noticed the presence of ethnic and racial stereotyping in the Qatari private and public sectors. These stereotypes include a poor view of the health of those coming from countries south of the Sahara and that women coming from the same countries are easy targets for sexual exploitation. The stereotypes also include a poor view of the intelligence of some of those coming from south Asian states.

The same stereotypes are prevalent in the justice system, according to the United Nations observers.

They said these stereotypes get worse because of stereotypical legal practices.

The reports Achiume and other United Nations observers made during their visit to Qatar also showed the presence of racial stereotyping among Qatari police and traffic officials on a wide scale.

The same stereotyping is present among security officials guarding public parks and shopping malls in Doha, they said.

Workers coming from south Asian and south of the Sahara countries said they are denied entry into these places because of their appearance.

One of the reports refers to major gaps between migrant workers and employers. It says these gaps are deeply entrenched in the sponsorship system which regulates the work and the conditions of low-income workers in Qatar.

The law gives massive powers to employers at the expense of the workers, the report said.

This is why most low-income workers are afraid to complain against the violations they experience at the workplace, it added.

The sponsorship system makes it necessary for employers to give their employees residence permits to prove their legal presence in Qatar. The same system deprives employees of the right to change their jobs without permission from their sponsors or employers.

In October 2019, Qatar said it would abolish the sponsorship system. However, the system continues to be effective.

Low-income migrant workers, especially in the fields of construction, services and industry, usually receive their salaries late.

One of the workers said he had received the salary of one month, even as he worked for four months.

A female worker said she had been working for ten months without a salary. A construction worker said he had to wait a whole year before a Qatari court ruled in his favor to get his overdue payment of 60,000 Qatari riyals from his employer.

Some of the workers said they wanted to report the violations their employers commit against them to the authorities.

Nevertheless, they said they were afraid of retaliation from their employers, which could include the termination of their contracts. The workers also said that their employers could accuse them of leaving their work without permission, which is punishable by Law 21/2015. The law punishes those accused of escaping from work by imprisonment. The same law highlights the coercive nature of work for low-income workers in Qatar.

Reports refer, meanwhile, to the presence of a legacy of servitude and enforced labor in the region.

Most domestic workers face clear hardships in Qatar as well as interconnected forms of discrimination, including major human rights violations against the background of their race, nationality and income.

Achiume received reports about the jailing of many domestic workers at the hands of their employers, including non-Qatari employers.

Many of these workers experience difficult conditions and endless work. Some of them are denied rest. They have their passports taken away from them along with their cell phone. Some of the domestic workers are subjected to physical, sexual and verbal abuse at the hands of their employers and their teenage and adult children.

Achiume listened to the accounts of some domestic workers who said they were deprived of food for long hours and forced to live on food leftovers.

A female worker from south of the Sahara said she underwent regular rape by her employer for more than a year, before she succeeded in escaping.

A report ran by a British newspaper last month lambasted the way Qatari companies deal with migrant workers working in World Cup projects.

The report spoke of anger among a large number of workers in al-Bayt Stadium in al-Khor at the practices of the same companies. The workers said they had not received their salaries for seven months.

The workers, the newspaper said, carry out their work in tough conditions and under high temperature in an environment full of risks.

It added that Qatari authorities had failed in providing the workers with appropriate work conditions.

The United Nations report, which is commissioned by Qatari authorities and the World Labor Organization, is based on the accounts of 125 workers in two World Cup stadiums along with another site in Qatar.

The report found that about two thirds of the workers interviewed suffered a high body temperature at the time they started their shift, which put their lives in peril.

Achiume called on Qatari authorities to make more effort to demonstrate more abidance by Qatar's international obligations.

Over 2 million migrant workers live in Qatar. Most of these workers receive low salaries. They come from south Asia and east and west Africa.

About 18,500 of these workers work in World Cup projects. Tens of thousands of other workers work in projects connected with the top soccer tournament.