Qatar World Cup migrant workers left mired in debt, Human Right Watch says
Qatari firms accused of complicity as families of dead workers are left in penury
Migrant workers who helped build the infrastructure for Qatar to host the upcoming football World Cup have been left mired in debt because of the extortionate recruitment fees charged by agents, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
Over the past 12 months, the nongovernmental organization interviewed dozens of migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Nepal, including the families of seven who are now dead.
Many said they had been forced into debt bondage — a form of forced labor recognized under international law — and were unable to leave their jobs, making them more vulnerable to abuse. Others said they had used up all of their savings and even sold family assets to meet the repayments on the fees charged by their recruiters.
In some instances, the families of workers who died in Qatar said they had been left to deal with the aftermath.
Bulani Sahani, the father of a migrant worker from Nepal who died in Qatar earlier this year, said he was struggling to provide for his grandchildren because of the debts his son had incurred.
“My son went (to Qatar) after borrowing money (more than $1,100) from many villagers,” he said.
“Now everyone keeps asking for it. They say that I must have received compensation for my son’s death, but I haven’t received a single rupee. How will I repay them? I don’t even have land to sell to pay them.”
Several investigations, including ones conducted on behalf of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy — the body responsible for creating the infrastructure needed to host the Word Cup — have revealed the pervasiveness of recruitment fees that can take months, if not years, to repay.
The 10 people interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had paid off their debts said it took them between four months and two years.
While the problem of high recruitment fees lay partially with companies in the workers’ home countries, the report said that businesses based in Qatar were complicit as they had imposed costs on recruiters that they knew would be passed on to the workers.
Because of Qatari firms’ lack of oversight, some unscrupulous recruiters had been able to “double dip,” charging both employers and migrant workers, it said.
While Qatari authorities had earlier claimed that the problem of exorbitant recruitment fees fell outside their jurisdiction, Human Rights Watch accused them of failing to tackle the issue.
It said also that FIFA — football’s governing body — and Qatari authorities had yet to commit to establishing a compensation fund for serious abuses of migrant workers.
“With 30 days left until the tournament, there is a slim window for FIFA and Qatari authorities to correct course and commit to remedying past abuses that have stained the 2022 World Cup,” said Michael Page, HRW’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Unless FIFA and Qatar act, then the real ‘legacy’ of this tournament will be how FIFA, Qatar and anyone profiting from this World Cup left families of thousands of migrant workers indebted after they died and left many migrant workers who had their wages stolen uncompensated.”