Qatar deports migrant workers protesting alleged abuse before World Cup

Header photo on Twitter @FIFAWorldCup

Qatar detained and deported dozens of migrant workers who took part in a protest because their employer did not pay them, according to labor rights activists. The emirate is hosting the World Cup in three months, and it has depended on foreign labor to build infrastructure, including gleaming stadiums, for the flagship men’s soccer tournament.

This month, at least 60 workers were detained for participating in the rare protest, outside the offices of Al Bandary International Group, a major construction and hospitality firm, according to Equidem, a London-based labor rights organization. Some of the demonstrators, who came from countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Egypt and the Philippines, had not been paid for as many as seven months, Equidem said, adding that most of them have been sent home.

“As far as we are aware, authorities have decided to deport everyone who was at the protest,” said Equidem’s executive director, Mustafa Qadri. “These workers are protesting because their employer had not paid them . . . this is not an Arab Spring moment.”

A Qatari government official said in a statement that the protesters had been detained for breaching public security laws and that the incident was under investigation.

“All delayed salaries and benefits are being paid by the Ministry of Labour,” the statement said. “The company was already under investigation by the authorities for non-payment of wages before the incident, and now further action is being taken after a deadline to settle outstanding salary payments was missed.”

Al Bandary did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gas-rich Qatar has a population of about 2.8 million, including 1.7 million foreign laborers, according to Amnesty International. In preparation to host the tournament, the first in the Middle East, Doha launched a modernization project that included expanding its main airport and public transportation systems and building stadiums and hotels.

Mistreatment of migrant laborers in Persian Gulf countries has been well documented, but Qatar, as tournament host, has come under particular scrutiny.

The emirate received approval this month to change the start date of the tournament, an unprecedented move that allowed its national team to kick off the World Cup at night with fireworks.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Qatar of bribing top officials at FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, in exchange for hosting rights to the World Cup. The FIFA officials and Qatari organizers denied the allegation.

The Aug. 14 protest came amid calls for FIFA to compensate workers for alleged labor abuses incurred in the lead-up to the tournament. Rights groups such as Amnesty say that includes deaths, injuries and wage theft.

FIFA looked the other way while thousands of migrants were made to work in conditions “amounting to forced labor,” Amnesty wrote in a report this year. It argued that the global body granted the country coveted hosting rights without requiring it to strengthen labor protections.

“All of these abuses are so at odds with the image of the World Cup as a glimmery celebration of humanity,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.

“These are the people who have literally built the World Cup from the ground up, from the desert up. They are the ones who must receive financial compensation before the first ball is kicked,” she said.

Doha has made some moves to improve its treatment of foreign workers after being awarded hosting rights in 2010. It overhauled some of its most controversial practices, including adopting a minimum wage and scrapping the country’s kafala employment system, which gave employers the right to prevent workers from leaving their jobs or the country. Workers are not allowed to unionize, and those who strike risk deportation, according to Worden.

The complaints by workers building the infrastructure ahead of soccer’s biggest tournament contrast with the glitz and glamour at the top of the sport. Last week, Paramount paid a record $1.5 billion to retain U.S. broadcasting rights for the Champions League, Europe’s most popular club soccer tournament.

Saudi Arabia, another country with a poor migrant rights record, is reportedly seeking to host the 2030 World Cup. Last weekend, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, met up with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to watch a boxing match.

FIFA expects the World Cup, which will begin in November, to draw 5 billion viewers around the world.



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