June 25, 2022

Qatar’s empty promises

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By Krysta Bisnauth, Freedom United

It’s been over a year since the Qatari government passed labor reforms that were historic for the Gulf Region in theory ending the kafala system which binds migrant employees to employers regardless of the employee’s wishes or circumstances.  We’ve been keeping a watchful eye and from what we see, the kafala system is alive and well
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My old employer wants my new employer to pay QR10000 [USD 2700] to give back my passport. My old employer has not even given me my end of service for three years and half a month salary is also pending.”—  Migrant worker testimony [1]

According to the government, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have benefited from the reforms. While football associations and international governmental organizations are still giving Qatar an ‘A’ for effort [2] over a year later, human rights groups and migrants on the ground are exposing the continued lived experiences of kafala plaguing many workers to this day.[3]   

The NGO Migrant-Rights.org has found that women and domestic workers are particularly affected by the lack of oversight of employers and inadequate reach in clear messaging about the new terms.  

They have heard testimony from migrant workers whose old employers refused to hand over their passports unless paid high sums by their new employers, persons whose friends were deported for pursuing a change of job and others who remained in abusive situations because they thought the risks of angering their current employers were too high.[4]  
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Malcolm Bidali
There is some hope. Migrant activists in Qatar have managed to win some freedoms for themselves this year with strikes and online activism.   

Last month, the BBC sat down with former security guard and migrant rights activist, Malcolm Bidali, to discuss the harrowing tale of his imprisonment by the Qatari state following his online documentation of the disparity in rhetoric and practice of labor reforms.[6]   

Despite his experience, Malcolm is adamant that there is still hope and that online advocacy works. He urges people to take up the cause online.  
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“A post or a tweet may be the difference between life and death, freedom and imprisonment.” — Malcolm Bidali [5]
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Malcolm’s case exposes a gap between Qatar’s professed commitment to migrant worker rights and reality. As he points out, “Qatar chose to detain me rather than to acknowledge and address the issues we face. That makes no sense. Why would they do that?”[7]  

The World Cup has brought keener scrutiny to Qatar and many believe the recent reforms are due to the positive effect of hosting the international sports event. Advocates worry, however, about what becomes of policy reforms when the games are over. One thing that is certain is that migrant workers cannot afford any setbacks.     

We must join Malcolm and other advocates in pushing forward momentum.  

Stand with migrant workers in Qatar today 

In solidarity,  Krysta and the Freedom United team
Krysta Bisnauth
Advocacy, Freedom United
[1] https://www.migrant-rights.org/2021/10/job-mobility-in-qatar-is-still-a-mirage-despite-reforms-domestic-workers-most-affected/ 
2] https://www.dohanews.co/qatar-is-listening-eu-officials-praise-positive-migrant-worker-rights-reforms/ 
[3] https://www.freedomunited.org/news/migrant-workers-experiencing-kafala-system-qatar/ 
[4] https://www.migrant-rights.org/2021/10/job-mobility-in-qatar-is-still-a-mirage-despite-reforms-domestic-workers-most-affected/ 
[5] https://www.freedomunited.org/news/qatars-contempt-migrant-worker/ 
[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-58590800 
[7] https://www.freedomunited.org/news/qatars-contempt-migrant-worker/ 
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