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Sun 22 Jun 2014 04:58 PM

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United States downgrades Qatar amid labour abuse concerns

New US human trafficking report puts Gulf state on Tier 2 watchlist; says must "significantly increase" efforts to fight abuses

United States downgrades Qatar amid labour abuse concerns
(AFP/Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

The United States has voiced its growing concern about modern-day slavery in Qatar after it downgraded the Gulf state on its human trafficking watchlist for 2014.

The move follows revelations of alleged maltreatment of migrant workers in the country amid a major construction boom as it prepares to host the World Cup tournament in 2022.

Qatar was demoted to a Tier 2 watchlist, with the report recommending that the Gulf state abolishes or significantly amends provisions of Qatar’s restrictive sponsorship system, which authorities have recently agreed to.

Qatar was previously on the Tier 2 watchlist in 2011 but was upgraded for 2012 and 2013. In 2007, it was listed among the Tier 3 countries, alongside Saudi Arabia, as one of the world's worst offenders.

The report also calls for Qatar to "significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offences, and convict and punish traffickers, particularly for forced labour crimes".

It also appeal to Qatari authorities to do more to fine employers who withhold workers’ wages or passports; and to enforce the law requiring that employees receive residence cards within one week of arrival as a means of preventing trafficking abuses.

"There cannot be impunity for those who traffic in human beings," said John Kerry, the US secretary of state. "It must end."

The US report said Qatar was a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labour and, to a much lesser extent, forced prostitution.

Approximately 1.2 million men and women — 94 percent of the country’s workforce — from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Sudan, Thailand, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Burma, Nigeria, and China voluntarily migrate to Qatar to work as low- and semi-skilled workers, primarily in the construction, oil and gas, service, and transportation industries, as well as domestic work.

Qatar's treatment of its massive foreign workforce has been under the international spotlight as it launches a massive construction programme for the infrastructure for the world football showcase in 2022.

Sponsorship systems for foreign workers exist in most Gulf countries, which employ millions of foreigners, especially from Asia. The system has been strongly criticised by human rights groups.

In March, an investigation by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) claimed foreign workers in Qatar were being kept in an “apartheid situation” where they are “treated like animals” and forced to live in squalor.

Mick 5 years ago

here we go....let the knee jerk reaction, unbased USA bashing start now

Paul 5 years ago

Nothing will change, its part of their Education, System, DNA and life style to segregate people by the grade they perceive them.
For example you will have police hitting laborers with sticks to keep them away from the Souk Wakif on fridays.
Or you will get a maid dress up in pyjamas walking in the back of their masters with a dull face, with no time off except for sleep. the txi drivers work for 300 Euros/ month in a company owned by the family in power...
how many laborers you will see having branch in a hotel on friday?
In Canada this is considered a non civilized society, commonly accepted by expats who could not care less about the usual victims. same goes with the International Media (CNN and BBC) who are engaged in profitable contracts in exchange of softing the image of the GCC.
nothing will change until the petrodollars will run out.

Rishard Fais 5 years ago

A nice article... As I have been in Qatar as an employee I would like to mention here my opinion.

In this case can not blame the country or local companies only. By using the current 'sponsorship system for foreign workers'; some of the foreign companies (employer) that are doing business in Qatar also treating the employees (or workers) as modern-day slaves. Most of the employees are facing the following problems and risks commonly.

1) Over workload
2) Psychological stress or distress
3) Lack or poor facilities
4) Low quality of food and accommodation provided by the companies
5) Transportation shortages
6) Rare or low salary increment or bonus and etc...

So those foreign companies also should be blamed.

The country has conscience because it is giving life for lots of foreigners. But the people are making it worse (including foreign business people).

Paul 5 years ago

Who is responsible for policies in a country?
Why policies are conveniently unchanged?
The ethic and humanity values of those responsible for policies and those who conveniently close the eyes on what is going on in their own countries, are questionable to say the least.
Just because there is misery in other countries, treating people like second class beggars is not really helping, especially when you are flooded with obscene wealth and luxury!
This is the type of “help” it was provided to slaves in the past (very recent in this region).

Syed Abdul-Hye 5 years ago

I fully agree with you Reshard Fais. USA is no position to downgrade anyone, before looking her own human rights abuses, slave laborers from Latin America, who are chained, and working in the secret underground workshops & factories. Let USA put her own house right before criticizing others. Qatar is much better place for workers than many other countries. There are laws in place against mistreatment of employees. Of course many companies are floundering law, and such companies are punished with hefty fines also. Yes, of course, there is much more is desired, like anywhere in the world, and I strongly feel that Government of Qatar is aware of their shortcomings, and constantly trying to improve.

Rishard Fais 5 years ago

Okay.. Let's think about some foreign companies which are segregating the employees as
01) TCN (Third-country nationals)
02) Expatriates (European Union)

Employees from a country which is not a member of the European Union (Ex:- Asia) is being considered TCN Staffs.
And there are differentiations in Salaries, Accommodations, Transportation and everything the company provides...!!

What shall we call about this...????
Everyone is doing the same mistake...

tfg 5 years ago

Usual biases and lets blame the evil qataris without looking at the whole picture!

SO what if a passport is withheld or not?

They have embassies in place. But I guess their embassies is just as ineffective as the corrupt, illiterate, containing actual heridetary slaves and not lousy jobs countries they came from

As for proper accomdation, when you import south asians whos half of the population practice open defecation and live in shacks, ofcourse they will turn any facility they live in to reflect the filthy living conditions of their country. How many clean up after themselves?

Paul 5 years ago

Those abuses are taking place because the System allows that.
Note that I am not defending any nationality as an exception. All profit from the situation because it’s allowed.
The System allows that because it is convenient for those who have the power to change the System, to enforce the change, to police that change.
Nothing of that sort is done in Qatar or any other GCC country.
It’s a silent disguised systematic discrimination.
I do not endorse and I will never defend or praise countries that are governed this way, while the leaders are obscenely wealthy!
You shouldn’t either as your compatriots are generally victims of those abuses!

Ian James 5 years ago

I am a western expat in Qatar and have to say your comment is biased. Qatar is a great place to live and as long as expats respect the hosts there will not be any problem. Some laborers you talk of do not know how to behave in public places with families and that is why they are not allowed in certain areas only on Fridays. The taxi drivers may get 300 Euros but that is 10 or 20 times more what they make back home
Qatar could frankly care less about what Canadians think of their society. Qatar's society, in my eyes, is an amazing place and expats here will find it amazing as long as they are willing to respect their hosts.

Paul 5 years ago

If you were a laborer, you would not be that happy to see others segregated, mistreated and underpaid.
But because you are a certain type of western expat in Qatar, you couldn't care less about what is happening to the lower tier of that society.
Actually, you might even fear in secret that any changes on the current system, might put at risk your comfortable and selfish situation.
Go and have a lavish bubly brunch on Friday morning in any luxury hotel in Doha, to celebrate your superiotity in relation to those second class laborers who do not know how to behave among the superior human beings.
Life will eventually teach you the lesson for you to develop some empathy for the less lucky ones.