UN expert urges Qatar to end sponsorship system

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(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

A UN official called on Qatar on Sunday to abolish a sponsorship system for migrant workers he said was a source of labour abuse, raising pressure on the 2022 World Cup host for reforms of its workplace practices.

Francois Crepeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants told a news conference in Doha that living conditions of foreign workers tended to be poor, describing one compound he had visited as a "slum".

"This marks a stain on Qatar's reputation and is something that can be improved right away," he said.

Faced with the challenge of completing big construction and infrastructure projects before the World Cup, the Gulf state has an increasing number of its estimated 1.8 million foreigners working on projects related to football's showcase event.

Crepeau said the sponsorship, or kafala, system, a practice widely used in the Gulf, ought to be scrapped.

"This system that is used to regulate the relationship between employers and migrant workers, with a work permit linked to a single employer, is problematic and a source of abuse against migrants," he said.

Under the system, employees cannot change jobs or leave the country without the permission of their sponsors, who are often labour supply companies or wealthy individual Qataris who provide workers to businesses for personal profit.

Many sponsors confiscate the passports of guest workers for the duration of their contract. Most foreign workers are in the construction and domestic work sectors.

Crepeau said that despite some improvements to labour regulations, implementation was still lacking.

Qatari Labour Ministry officials were not immediately available to comment.

Britain's Guardian newspaper reported in September that dozens of Nepali workers had died during the summer in Qatar and that laborers were not given enough food and water. Officials from Nepal and Qatar denied the report.

However, Nepal recalled its ambassador from Qatar on Thursday after it emerged that she had called the country an "open jail" for Nepalis who suffer labor abuses.

Crepeau also visited detention centers where women were serving one-year terms for adultery - an offence under Islamic law - after giving birth out of wedlock. He said the women lived in prison with their babies in conditions he said were a clear violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Thousands of mostly African workers gathered in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday seeking repatriation after two people died in overnight rioting that followed a visa crackdown in the kingdom, which also uses the sponsorship system.

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Posted by: Michelle

There are abuses, I wish I could deny that there were, but that is the case in every nation, including our own. Here is the thing. It is not so widespread or dramatic as some would make you think. These people know what they are getting into-millions of people from very specific areas have worked in Qatar. They KNOW that they will likely be paid and fed and get back home without incident. Most are making far better wages in Qatar than they ever could in their own country-if they could find a job at all. Being away from their family is a price they are willing to pay so that their kids will get a good education and their parents will eat regularly. That is what living there does for them. The vast majority have their lives improved (or their children's lives improved) by their tenure in Qatar. You think they are staying there for 20 years or more becausethey are prisoners? NO, they are doing it for a reason that works for them.
All the same, scrap the sponsorship system. It is bad.

Posted by: John

I think Michelle has got it spot on. I would advise anyone concerned about workers to fly to India or Pakistan and see what the conditions are like.
The majority of people there do not get proper food to eat, do not have acces to toilets and most people in cities live in shanty towns or on streets.
Working and getting a salary in Qatar or any of the gulf nations means their lives are far better than what it was back home. Please stop patronizing them and understand that they are improving their lives and that of their families.

Posted by: Alta

In addition to the above comments, even Executives are like bonded laborers. They also need to have an exit permit to go out of the country may it be even for vacations . You are not allowed to change jobs as you are under sponsorship. On termination of sponsorship, you need to exit the country and 2 years ban is imposed. Salaries for the middle class is not upto the standards and we all are aware of the standard of living in Qatar is very high. To get your families to Qatar as a resident, your minimum salary needs to QAR 10,000.00 which is $2740.00 ?????

How can a normal person who's salary is not as high as QAR10,000.00 bring his family to Qatar and live happily. Its high time Qatari Govt needs to change the regulation and be liberal

Posted by: Mustapha

What about Saudi ?? Why only Qatar... give GCC one year to abolish the Modern Era Slavery !!!

Posted by: Rahuldev A Holla

i failed to understand the logic in the first place that why these labourers go to Qatar? they can earn the same money in their home country. The hardship apart from the abuse they have to go through is horrible. its high time they realise it.

Posted by: who you fooling

Do you think these people are told the truth before getting on the plane?
When they realise its to late they are in Qatar with no passport and a debt to their "agent"

Posted by: manish

Yes, few local employers / sponsors hold the passports of employees and do harrasing practices with employees, when they want to leave. On the other hand, majority of good employers extend full support to their employees. However existance of law- which makes it compulsory for all employees to obtain Exit Permit while leaving country- is misused by employers to harrase any employee. Revamping this Exit Permit / or modyfying it for the benifit of migrant employees must be considered favorably.

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