For all the brave front that Qatar is putting up in wake of the boycott by Gulf and Arab states over Doha’s role in propping up terror networks in the region, the reports come in from those directly affected in business sectors tells a contrary story.
“The current [Gulf Cooperation Council] diplomatic crisis has drowned out conversations on migrant rights in the region, but the two are actually linked,” David Segall, who researches labor in the Gulf at New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told Washington Post.
“More and more workers are stranded in the Gulf because their employers have been deported or have suspended business operations. This is a predictable pitfall of a system that gives employers inordinate sponsorship powers over workers, and is a reminder of the need for reform.”
Qatar has supposedly abolished ‘kafala’ worker sponsorship system, but experts say the modified version still grants employers undue control over employees’ right to enter and exit the country.
“Companies still have the power to block workers from leaving the country, which is an outright human rights violation, and which drives forced labor,” James Lynch, the deputy director of human rights group Amnesty International, said to the Carnegie Endowment think tank in April.
The current business situation has exacerbated fears of wage delays and employment losses.
After Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border, workers braced for a shock to the country’s construction sector. Any shortages following the lack of construction supplies and materials can badly impact industry and in turn lead to suspension of payments.
“More than 300,000 people and workers have already left Doha, and this process is ongoing. Due to this blockade, most companies are facing material shortages and construction sites are gradually being closed,” said Asrar, a foreign businessman involved in Doha’s construction industry.
Asrar asked to be identified only by his first name out of fear that talking to the media would jeopardize his immigration status. “If the situation stays the same for a long period of time, then small companies will be forced to send their employees 'on vacation' or cancel their visas,” he said.
Sourav Ahmmad, a 21-year-old Bangladeshi migrant worker in Qatar’s construction sector, said companies are doing exactly that, increasingly limiting the work they offer by extending leave periods from one month per year to five.
As someone who paid more than $4,000 to a recruiter to find a job in Doha, Ahmmad asked: “What’s the benefit if you won’t get any money?”
In the aftermath of the embargo, Qatar blocked some migrant workers from obtaining their exit visas or going on annual leave, effectively locking foreign workers inside the country.