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Ear to the Ground

Qatar an ‘Open Jail’ for Nepalese Laborers Working in Slave-Like Conditions

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Posted on Sep 26, 2013
phortx (CC BY-ND 2.0)

At least 44 Nepalese laborers died this summer and countless others are working under slave-like conditions in Qatar as the oil-rich nation undertakes a massive construction surge to prepare for the 2022 World Cup international soccer tournament, The Guardian reports.

Workers are enduring appalling conditions, from being forced to live a dozen to a room, cheated out of their pay, denied water at work sites in desert conditions, and having passports and other crucial documents confiscated to preclude their escape. Of the deaths, most were young men dying of heart failure or workplace accidents. The conditions are so bad that at least 30 Nepalese workers sought refuge in the Nepal Embassy in Doha, the capital.

All to prepare for a sports competition.

The Guardian reports that the abuses are at the hands of managers for subcontractors far below the control of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, which oversees the preparations. Officials there told The Guardian they were “deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors ... and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness.” Government officials were investigating.

It’s unclear how much effect that might have in a nation where Human Rights Watch says “forced labor and human trafficking are serious problems” and where “the government has failed to address shortcomings in the legal and regulatory framework” despite being well aware of the pervasive maltreatment of migrant workers—who make up the vast majority of Qatari residents.

Migrant workers reported extensive labor law violations. Common complaints included late or unpaid wages. Some lived in overcrowded and unsanitary labor camps, and lacked access to potable water. Many workers said they received false information about their jobs and salaries before arriving and signed contracts in Qatar under coercive circumstances.

Qatar employs only 150 labor inspectors to monitor compliance with the labor law, and inspections do not include worker interviews.

Nepalese are the predominant laboring group, The Guardian reports, and thousands of them live and work in conditions that meet the International Labor Organization’s definition of slavery.

The Guardian’s investigation also found men throughout the wider Qatari construction industry sleeping 12 to a room in places and getting sick through repulsive conditions in filthy hostels. Some say they have been forced to work without pay and left begging for food.

“We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours’ work and then no food all night,” said Ram Kumar Mahara, 27. “When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers.”

Almost all migrant workers have huge debts from Nepal, accrued in order to pay recruitment agents for their jobs. The obligation to repay these debts, combined with the non-payment of wages, confiscation of documents and inability of workers to leave their place of work, constitute forced labour, a form of modern-day slavery.”

The situation is so appalling that the Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, called the Mideast nation an “open jail.” Yet the desire to make a living, and the pervasiveness of shady Qatari labor contractors in Nepal and other South Asian countries, keeps the flow of workers moving. 

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

 

 

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