The violation of migrant workers' human rights in Qatar has been massive and woefully underreported by the Arab Gulf State and many others. Qatar's dismal treatment of "guest workers" has become more pronounced and visible since its selection in 2010 by FIFA as the site of this year's World Cup football (soccer) tournament.
Qatar claims that 37 workers died during the construction phase of its World Cup infrastructure projects. The organization Amnesty International asserts that authorities in Qatar failed to investigate the deaths of thousands of migrant workers who lost their lives working on construction projects associated with the World Cup. One UK press report puts the total number of victims at 6,750.
There is little accounting of how the workers died, since autopsies are discouraged in Qatar; they must be requested by family members of the deceased, who almost always reside in the laborers' home country. Although Islamic fatwas issued by imams in Saudi Arabia and Egypt allow autopsies, there is a decided lack of interest by Qatari officials in conducting post-mortem procedures on migrant workers.
The process by which migrant laborers are hired and employed in Qatar is filled with opportunities for abuse of human rights by recruiters based in the migrants' home countries and their employers in the host country. The workers often arrive in debt, due to extortionate fees charged by recruiters who facilitate the employment process. Qatar's kafala (sponsorship) system is so fraught with abuse that it approaches the level of human trafficking.
Public exposure of the widespread abuse of migrant workers, however, has forced Qatar to legislate some changes that ostensibly have the potential, if implemented, to improve conditions for these laborers. Qatar has agreed to establish a minimum wage law and the government now has promised to allow migrant workers to change jobs without employers' permission.
Another frequent burden borne by migrant laborers in Qatar is that wages are often delayed for months due to unscrupulous practices or administrative neglect. Crowded buses transfer laborers to and from worksites, as almost no migrant workers have private vehicles in Qatar. Migrants are seldom seen on the streets of Doha: there is a lack of mobility as well as restrictions on their travel to many public areas.
Working conditions are medieval. Laborers have little to no access to health care: they cannot afford health insurance and there are no on-site clinics. They are also forced to work long hours, often seven days a week. Many migrants die from the extreme heat during Qatar's summer: temperatures sometimes reach above 44 degrees Celsius (112 degrees Fahrenheit). Living conditions are often not fit for humans: workers are housed in cramped and squalid dwellings in Qatar's industrial zone outside the capital of Doha .
The vast majority of migrant workers in Qatar are from South Asia. India tops the list, with nearly 700,000 laborers. Others, in order of decreasing number, include migrants from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Migrants from Arab states include about 300,000 Egyptians along with tens of thousands of Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians. There are also laborers from the Philippines and others from sub-Saharan Africa, especially Sudanese. Foreign workers far outnumber native Qataris, who number approximately 333,000 souls, 90% of whom live in Doha.
FIFA's refusal to permit any outward sign of disapproval by athletes of Qatar's criminal violations of international human rights standards were nevertheless flouted by Norway's team in the lead-up to the World Cup.
The extent of the abuse of foreign "guest workers" in Qatar should not be a surprise. The Arab Gulf State lacks basic freedoms. This shortcoming is evidenced by Qatar's arrest of journalists from Norway, Denmark and the UK over the past several years. All these reporters were investigating migrant worker conditions. Unfair trials and forced confessions for resident migrant workers and foreigners who speak out against abuses are the norm.. Qatari women are, as in many Islamic countries, not given the equal status as men. LGBTQ individuals are subject to abuse.
Qatar has another dimension which should have alarmed FIFA.
Despite the presence of a large US military base, Qatar's ruling Al-Thani family is a huge financial supporter of various terrorist groups, including Hamas. This wealthy, conservative Sunni mini-state is also a sanctuary for several terrorist operatives. Mohsen Rezaei, for instance, the Iranian accused by Argentine investigators of masterminding the murders of Jews in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1992 and 1994, visited Qatar on October 18. He reportedly met with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdul Aziz Al Thani:
"Al Thani stressed that the bilateral agreements signed between the emir of Qatar and the Iranian president in various fields, including the economy and trade, are in full implementation, and that Doha is 'prepared to expand these relations to the highest level.'"
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.