Qatar - oppression, desperation and hope

International issues In Qatar, modern slavery is a reality. Having returned from a field trip there, my impressions of all the young women and men who are forced to work under inhuman conditions and live in big camps are impossible to forget. In spite of protests from the surrounding world, the conditions for these most exposed workers have in some cases even worsened.

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The 2022 FIFA World Cup is planned to take place in Qatar, in arenas built by migrant workers. There has been an unbelievably high number of deaths. The corruption within FIFA is well-known. The only reasonable thing to do is to refuse to allow Qatar to organise the World Cup as long as they have not taken all necessary steps to live up to fundamental conditions.

The migrants are housed in overcrowded labour camps. Sometimes ten people share a room not big enough for more than four. In the camps I visited, the kitchens were undersized, dirty and practically out of order. There are eight toilettes and showers for about 100 persons. The circumstances of these workers are beneath dignity; the short-sighted interest of the employers is more important than the respect for human beings and signed agreements.

In spite of increasing criticism from the surrounding world, the authorities of the country refuse to implement reforms of the strict labour market legislation and the abusive Kafala-system, which forces migrants to stay with the employer for at least two years without possibility to leave the country – no matter how bad their situation is.

The ITUC has denounced Qatar to the ILO for several violations of the fundamental rights and demands that the ILO carries out an investigation in Qatar to clarify the situation in terms of the existence of slavery and forced labour. In answer to the criticism, the authorities of Qatar recently presented a new labour market legislation that will replace the loathsome Kafala-system. This legislation, however, will change nothing. The employer must still give their approval when the individual worker wants to leave the company and return home. It is not clear how long appeals will take, which means that migrants will be forced to continue working for companies that threaten them with reprisals and confiscated wages. The implementation of the new law will take at least one year and the 1,8 million migrants in Qatar may have to wait a long time for improvements that will never take place.

Most migrants in Qatar come from India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. In their home countries they meet recruiting companies that promise decent wages, good housing, reasonable working hours and recreation possibilities. When they arrive in Qatar, they find quite a different reality. The wages are halved and sometimes never paid. The living conditions are very bad and to get to work they must travel long distances on buses without air condition, in temperatures of up to 50 degrees.

Qatar is one of the world’s richest countries. The riches are based on gas, oil, greed and shameless exploitation of poor young men and women. It is high time for the surrounding world to exert immediate and forceful pressure on Qatar. It has been decided that the ILO will have the right to investigate the accusations of slavery-like practices. In addition, the FIFA must decide to withdraw the World Cup as soon as possible. Otherwise the tournament will be played in arenas shadowed by 7,000 dead young women and men who only wanted to create a better live for themselves and their families.

Oscar Ernerot