T.thousands of poorly paid migrant workers in Qatar are forced to return home before the World Cup, leaving many fearful of being left out of work, unable to support their families and deeply in debt.
In some cases, workers claim that they were sent back before the contract expired or without receiving their full salary or allowance.
The moves to send migrant workers back to their home countries before the FIFA tournament starts appear to be tied to a government circular, published last year and seen by the Guardian, ordering some contractors to complete all jobs by half. September and prepare a plan for the leave of workers that “maximizes the reduction in the number of workers in the country” in view of the World Cup.
On the wide promenade that runs alongside Doha Bay, a red clock in the shape of the Qatar World Cup logo counts the days before the tournament starts.
When the Guardian visited in the summer, hundreds of migrant workers dressed in blue overalls were working in the sweltering humidity to complete the renovation of a popular promenade and the adjacent street known as the Corniche, which once the tournament begins should be a destination for thousands of tourists and football fans.
The Guardian interviewed 25 workers employed on the Corniche. Most said they expected to be in Qatar for two years, but to be sent home much sooner, in some cases after as little as 10 months. Many of the respondents have now returned to their countries.
Some workers who spoke to the Guardian claimed they did not work long enough to repay the large sums – equivalent to four or five months of base salary in Qatar – that they borrowed to pay recruiting agents in their home countries to secure jobs in Qatar .
“We don’t want to go back. We are poor, so we need to work, ”said a Nepalese worker, who said so he had been forced to pay the equivalent of nearly £ 1,000 in illegal employment fees to secure the job. “I haven’t refunded my taxes yet. I will be at a loss if I am sent back. “
Others were in a state of confusion, saying they would be sent home but were told they could be recalled after the World Cup. They are now facing up to six months without pay as they wait to see if they can return.
All the workers interviewed said they had no choice but to leave. “Many have already been sent and others are on the list. If your name is on the list, you have to go, “said one.
Many blamed the World Cup for the sudden end of their work. Everyone will be sent back because of the World Cup. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here, ”one said. “What can I do? I’m helpless.”
Ansar Ali * said he paid an agent in India 100,000 rupees (£ 1,050) to secure his job. To afford the dues, he borrowed money at a high interest rate of 10%, but calculated that in two years he could pay off the debt and still earn enough to support his wife and two children.
But just 10 months after arriving in Qatar, he now expected to be sent home at any moment. “I don’t know when I’ll be sent, but I know I’ll have to go. Two or three of my friends have already been notified, “he said.
“How will I survive when I return? How will I pay off my debt? ”He asked on his way to a money exchange to exchange Qatari riyals for Indian rupees.
The workers interviewed by the Guardian are employed by UrbaCon Trading & Contracting Company (UCC) and InfraRoad, both subsidiaries of UCC Holding, in a Corniche redevelopment project.
Most of the workers affected appear to have been hired on short-term “project visas”, but they say they were told they would be employed for at least two years. The letters from InfraRoad offering jobs to workers in August 2021, after the publication of the government circular, seem to confirm this.
The letters promise annual leave and a return flight ticket after two years and require a two-month notice period after two or more years of service.
Some workers have accused recruiting agents in their home countries for falsely promising them a two-year contract. Others said the responsibility lay with the contractor. “It’s the company’s fault because they made the deal with the agent,” says one.
Research by migrant-rights.org, an organization that defends the rights of migrant workers in the Gulf, recently uncovered similar cases among workers sent back to Nepal by some of Qatar’s largest construction companies.
Some workers told migrant-rights.org that they did not receive full pay, overtime pay, or severance pay. Others said they were sent home before their contracts expired.
One, who had worked in Qatar for 12 years, including in different World Cup stadiums, said: “How nice it would be for workers like me to watch the matches in the stadiums we have built ourselves. But who cares about us? There is no value for the workers in that country. I feel that the World Cup is an event for and only for the rich ”.
May Romanos, Amnesty International’s Gulf researcher, said: “It is crucial for the Qatari government to put workers’ rights first in any decision and ensure that the same people who made Qatar’s dream of hosting this Cup possible. of the World do not face further abuses and violations as a result ”.
In a statement, a Qatari official said there was no government obligation for companies to repatriate employees or reduce their workforce prior to the World Cup.
“Any independent measures by companies to reduce their workforce must be taken in accordance with the law and must not have a negative impact on employee well-being,” it says.
The statement also stated that labor law allowed employers and employees to terminate a contract before the end of its term as long as they respected the legal notice period. Foreign workers have the right to change jobs if their contract is terminated and legal procedures are in place if an employee does not receive salary or benefits at the end of the contract, he said.
The Qatari government also said that a fund to support workers, including by reimbursing unpaid wages or benefits, paid £ 152.5 million within the past month.
“Qatar is committed to a fair and effective work system and we appreciate the indispensable role of foreign workers in our economy and in society at large,” the official added.
UCC Holding did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Sign up for a different view with our Global Dispatch newsletter – a roundup of our top stories from around the world, recommended reading and our team’s thoughts on key development and human rights issues, delivered to your inbox every two weeks: