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Foreign Workers Abused In Qatar, Report Says

By NPR Staff | 11/18/2013

Our friends over at the Two-Way recently told you about disturbing allegations against Qatar for its handling of migrant workers building the country's infrastructure for the 2022 soccer World Cup. Those revelations were first reported in The Guardian.

This week we have more allegations, this time from Amnesty International.

"The abuses against migrant workers in the construction sector in Qatar are grim," the human rights group says.

More than 1 million foreigners work in Qatar, and they make up 94 percent of the country's workforce, Amnesty says.

The group says workers who arrive in Qatar are often paid less than what they were promised — that's when they get paid at all. Some workers often have their passports confiscated so they can't leave; others are made to work under extreme conditions and are "treated like cattle."

Reuters reports:

"Earlier this month a U.N. official called on Qatar to abolish the kafala, or sponsorship system, used by many Gulf Arab states, under which employees cannot change jobs or leave the country without the permission of their sponsors.

"Many sponsors, often labour supply firms or wealthy Qataris who provide workers to businesses for profit, confiscate the passports of guest workers for the duration of their contracts."

Qatar, as we've reported previously, has emerged in recent years as a new power in the Middle East. It owns Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language broadcaster whose programs can be seen around the world. The World Cup would be the crowning glory for the tiny emirate. Some estimates suggest that $220 billion is being spent to expand the country's infrastructure ahead of the World Cup. Workers for that effort come mainly from South Asia.

Here's more from The Associated Press:

"Amnesty's study comes a week after FIFA President Sepp Blatter visited the emir of Qatar to share FIFA's concern about working conditions after newspaper investigations highlighted alleged human rights abuses and deaths in the extreme heat.

"There have been long-standing concerns about the lack of safeguards for the mainly South Asian migrant laborers in Qatar and across the Gulf, including low-grade housing and employers withholding the worker passports."

In response, a Qatari Foreign Ministry official told the Qatar News Agency that the country was "doing its utmost" to protect human rights. Qatar's government has hired the global law firm DLA Piper to look at issues surrounding the construction sector, the news agency said.

FIFA, soccer's governing body, said it upholds "respect for human rights." But FIFA chief Blatter added:

"The workers' rights will be the responsibility for Qatar and the companies — many of them European companies — who work there. It is not FIFA's primary responsibility but we cannot turn a blind eye. Yet it is not a direct intervention from FIFA that can change things."

Amnesty International said it was concerned by FIFA's approach.

Amnesty's report comes amid criticism of the way foreign workers are treated in other Arab countries.

Saudi authorities have cracked down on workers illegally in the country, an effort that led to riots last week. Human Rights Watch has previously said migrant workers "suffer multiple abuses and labor exploitation, sometimes amounting to slavery-like conditions" in the country.

Widespread abuse is also alleged in the United Arab Emirates, where nearly 90 percent of all residents are foreigners.
Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.