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WDR Sport Inside: Trapped in Qatar

Qatar is the proud organizer of the World Cup 2022. Qatar is also known as one of the richest countries in the world. However, has the situation of foreign workers in Qatar really improved as promised? A shattering reportage has revealed the hidden and dark things that Qatar does not want you to see or hear.

There are just under two million foreign workers in the country. Over the last few years, Qatar has repeatedly promised to take action against the exploitation of guest workers.

In Aletiya Market, 20 minutes from the center of Doha, hundreds of guest workers from Nepal, India or Bangladesh meet there. The same complaints are heard and talk over and over again: lack of wages, miserable accommodations and passports taken, so they can not get away. Many are afraid of their bosses.

“We are prisoners”

We come into conversation with two guest workers from Nepal. They are so desperate that they are ready to tell us their suffering openly. They are  not able to go back as their boss has taken their passports. Their names: Adi Gurung and Dil Prasad.

“In total, we are 125 workers stuck here,” says Dil Prasad. “We are prisoners, I just want to go home, we can’t even call our families in Nepal. Since November, the boss tells us that our salary would come,” says Adi Gurung. However up till now we have not received it. Our boss tells us to be patient.”

Chronicles of the announced improvements

In 2014, Qatar announces reforms to the Kafala system, the system whereby the employer can exercise extremely strong control over the guest worker. Fines given out is about 50,000 Riyal – about 12,000 euros.

In 2015, a new electronic payment system will be introduced. The salaries should now be transferred monthly.

In 2017, a minimum wage of 750 Riyal will be introduced, which will cost just over € 180 per month.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) ended its investigation into Qatar and praised the measures taken to date literally as “very encouraging development”. But Amnesty International (last February 2019) and Human Rights Watch continue to report serious violations and unsustainable conditions on construction sites.

“We have to be saved from this situation”

“For months, we can not get a salary and can not send money home, neither the labor court nor the embassy helps us.”

“Sometimes I wonder if it would not be better to be dead,” says guest worker Adi Gurung. “We all need to be saved from this situation, because it’s also about our families in Nepal, my wife and two kids are going through tough times, I have not been able to send any money for seven months, somebody has to help us.”

None of the participating companies are answering the complaints and cries of the foreign workers, not even the authorities of the country. The world football body FIFA, who will earn billions of euros with the World Cup replied with only a quote: “The allegations you address are very serious.”

Despair in Kathmandu

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and the families of the guest workers depend on the money their fathers, brothers and husbands send home from Qatar.

500 kilometers from Kathmandu on the border with India lives the family of Adi Gurung. His wife is desperate, where she had to make debts amounting to the equivalent of 2,700 euros. She has not been receiving money from Adi, and in April they have to pay the school fees of their children.

Return in coffin

Bishnu Bahadur returns to his family from Qatar, sadly in a coffin. He is the one hundredth dead foreign worker this year. The numbers continue to be alarmingly high and it has not improved in recent years.

A healthy young man when he left home. “He kept complaining about the heat during work,” says Keshav Bhartri, brother-in-law of Bishnu Bahadur. “It was too hot on the construction sites, he never told us anything about a disease, he was examined here in Nepal and he was examined on arrival in Qatar for the work permit, he was always healthy.”

The Nepalese government confirms that there are 1,426 guest workers have died in Qatar in the past ten years. 522 – more than a third of workers – sudden cardiac death and 124 accidents at work. How many of the deaths are related to the World Cup are unknown.

For the first time FIFA grants violations on World Cup construction site

The World Cup Organizing Committee in Qatar denies the deaths described by migrant workers. The committee claims they are not aware of any abuse.

Bereaved families of dead workers confirmed that they had received no compensation from Doha for their tragic losses.

Despite Nepal’s efforts to discourage its citizens from heading to Qatar for work, many still leave in the hope of finding better-paid jobs.

One Nepali stadia construction worker, Dil Prasad, said: “We are captured, and every day we nourish ourselves on water and bread. Without money we can’t do anything else. Month on month our situation gets worse. I’m not sure how much longer I can do it. I just want to go home. We can’t even call our families in Nepal.”

“We are captured. We live off water & bread, we can’t afford anything else.” “Our situation is getting worse on a monthly basis. I can’t take it anymore.” “Sometimes I ask myself whether I’d be better off dead.” “We must be saved from this place. Someone must help us”

“After four months without being paid, we stopped working… Our bosses rejected us. They told us we can go to work for another company. But that’s not possible without our papers. We went to labor court and to the embassy, but nothing’s changed.”

Dinesh Regimi, a Katmandu-based journalist who spent three years in Qatar as a reporter, said conditions for Nepali workers had not improved since Doha won its bid to stage the prestigious football competition almost a decade ago.

He added: “The migrants faced difficulties returning home. Some died while working, some passed away while sleeping. The heat and living conditions claimed many lives. The Qatari government would not conduct any post-mortems on these workers.

Kishore Tamang from the Bara district of Nepal, around 250 km south of the capital Katmandu, went to Qatar in 2015 hoping to earn enough money to pay off family debts. But within a year he was dead, after being killed in a fall from a wall at a new football stadium being built for the World Cup. No compensation was paid to his family.

It was a similar story for the family of Jagat Nepali from the Nuwakot district. Within six months of arriving in Qatar he suffered a cardiac arrest brought on, his relatives said, by the intolerable heat and poor living conditions in the migrant workers’ camp.

The Nepali department has confirmed that 1,426 guest workers from Nepal died in Qatar between 2009 and 2019. 522 of them as a result of sudden heart failures. 111 deaths this year alone.

A government official from Nepal’s Department of Immigration, told Arab News: “We are aware of the situation in Qatar and the difficulties Nepali workers face there. We try to discourage people from going to such places.”

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