A Change of Guard

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Saturday, 21 May 2016

Qatar World Cup workers 'are in a living nightmare’

 Ben Rumsby, sports news correspondent  
1 APRIL 2016 

Construction workers at a stadium staging the 2022 World Cup have been victims of “systematic abuses” and “forced labour”, according to a damning new report that casts more doubt than ever on Qatar’s suitability to host the tournament.

Amnesty International’s The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game found those employed to refurbish the Khalifa International Stadium had been forced to live in “squalid” accommodation and had their wages withheld and passports confiscated in blatant defiance of pledges by World Cup organisers to prevent such projects being plagued by the human rights violations endemic elsewhere in the country.

Qatar World Cup workers 'are in a living nightmare’ 
Amnesty International's report has highlighted 'systematic abuses' CREDIT: AFP

The 50-page report by the world’s most respected human rights watchdog also condemned Fifa for showing “indifference to appalling treatment of migrant workers” and the Qatari government of being “apathetic”, declaring that, unless that changed as a matter of urgency, “it will be almost impossible for the World Cup to be staged without abuse”.

Previous investigations into Qatar’s preparations for hosting football’s biggest event have focused on the infrastructure being built around match venues, projects which led to the death and inhumane abuse of thousands of migrants from some of the world’s poorest countries recruited to work in one of the richest.

But this is the first time that violations of workers’ rights have been found to have occurred at a World Cup site, which was visited three times by Amnesty during a year-long period ending last month.

Its report was based on interviews with 234 migrants working on the refurbishment of Doha’s Khalifa Stadium – where England played Brazil in 2009 – and landscaping projects at the city’s Aspire Zone sports complex, where Everton, Bayern Munich and Paris St-Germain trained this winter and the Wales rugby team before last year’s World Cup.

Qatar World Cup workers 'are in a living nightmare’ 
A protester shows Fifa the red card over human-rights abuses in Qatar  CREDIT: AFP

Amnesty said that every single construction and landscape worker it spoke to had reported abuse, including: 

Being forced to live in squalid and cramped accommodation.
Being required to pay large fees (£350 to £3,000) to recruiters in their home country to obtain a job in Qatar.

Being deceived as to the pay or type of work on offer (all but six of the men had salaries lower than promised when they arrived, sometimes by half).

Not being paid for several months; employers not giving or renewing residence permits, leaving people at risk of detention and deportation as “absconded” workers.

 Employers confiscating workers’ passports and not issuing exit permits meaning they could not leave the country (even to visit loved ones following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal).
Being threatened for complaining about their conditions.

Amnesty visited only one of several World Cup sites, the number of workers on which is set to surge almost 10-fold to around 36,000 in the next two years.

Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said: “The abuse of migrant workers is a stain on the conscience of world football. For players and fans, a World Cup stadium is a place of dreams. For some of the workers who spoke to us, it can feel like a living nightmare.

“Indebted, living in squalid camps in the desert, paid a pittance, the lot of migrant workers contrasts sharply to that of the top-flight footballers who will play in the stadium.

“Despite five years of promises, Fifa has failed almost completely to stop the World Cup being built on human rights abuses.” 

Qatar World Cup workers 'are in a living nightmare’ 
Abuse appears widespread amongst workers in Qatar

Amnesty’s report was published more than two years after the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy created a workers’ charter to protect migrant employees on World Cup projects from the abuses suffered by thousands of construction workers in the country.

The charter was devised following reports almost 200 Nepalese men died in 2013 working on construction projects in Qatar, a figure the International Trade Union Confederation recently claimed could exceed more than 7,000 by 2022.

The ‘kafala’ employment system, which ties migrants to their sponsor companies, was blamed for these abuses and the country’s government has made efforts to reform it.

Qatar 2022 general secretary Hassan al-Thawadi has also repeatedly stated his commitment to ensuring projects for which he is responsible conform to the highest standards when it comes to workers’ rights, vowing the World Cup will not be built on “the blood of innocents”.

The Amnesty report found the abuses had been committed by subcontractors which had not been subject to the same degree of oversight by the Supreme Committee as the firms with which it had contracts.

The Supreme Committee last night said much of what Amnesty had uncovered had been addressed by June of last year and that the tone of its report painted “a misleading picture” which was not representative of the entire work force at the Khalifa Stadium.

It added: “We have always maintained this World Cup will act as a catalyst for change – it will not be built on the back of exploited workers. We wholly reject any notion that Qatar is unfit to host the World Cup.” 

Fifa said: “We remain convinced that the unique attraction and visibility of the Fifa World Cup globally is a strong catalyst for significant change.” 

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