Qatar Blockade: Fears for Migrant Workers in a Region in Turmoil

Concerns over the conditions of migrant workers in Qatar are mounting, as the blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries continues.

Workers from Bangladesh, India and Nepal are telling of essential food prices doubling with the sealing of the Saudi border and closure of air and sea links to Qatar. Food deliveries by costly air freight from Iran and Turkey are pushing up prices, while the availability of materials for the huge World Cup infrastructure programme, involving stadiums, transport links, thousands of hotel rooms and other construction works, is also in question.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “Migrant workers in Qatar, earning as little as USD 70 per week, are facing yet another squeeze as food prices go up. While wealthy Qataris may not notice a difference, the brunt of the crisis is already being felt by impoverished migrants who have no rights under the kafala system. Probable delays in construction projects are likely to add further pressure on the huge migrant workforce, in a country where they have no real recourse to justice. Those who want to leave the country have to get their employer’s permission, and many workers are still paying off debts to recruitment agents who arranged their passage to Qatar. The Qatar government should, as an immediate humanitarian step, remove the kafala exit-permit requirement so that those who want to return home are not trapped in Qatar.”

Multinational companies doing business in Qatar must also take responsibility for the workers in their supply chains, including transport workers who were stranded when the blockade started, and migrant workers travelling via Qatar, which has been a hub for onward travel to other countries in the region. The immediate needs of these workers need to be taken care of, and contracts and promises of wages must be fulfilled. The International Federation of Journalists has also called for Saudi Arabia and its allies to stop treating journalists as political footballs as the Qatar-financed Al Jazeera network faces shut-down in a number of countries < http://www.ifj.org/nc/news-single-view/backpid/50/article/stop-using-journalists-as-political-footballs-in-qatar-crisis-demands-ifj/ >. Construction companies in Qatar should ensure that any delays to infrastructure projects do not lead to lay-offs or wage cuts.

The position of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, the driving forces behind the blockade, points to the divide between countries in the region and the different positions taken by the ruling families regarding their support for various fundamentalist groups including the risks posed to their absolute grip on power in the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are also locked into an escalating arms race, with the Saudi government announcing a USD 110 billion arms deal with the US, and Qatar purchasing USD 12 billion in military hardware, also from the US. These weapons deals come on top of a flood of military hardware from other arms-exporting countries into the region in recent years. The proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen has cost thousands of innocent lives and driven the country into a cholera epidemic, with some 5,000 new cases every day. Turkey’s announcement that it will deploy thousands of troops in Qatar, where the US already has a huge military presence, is likely to increase tensions in the region.

“The absence of democracy and human rights in the Gulf countries and the massive weapons deals with the US and other countries, coupled with authoritarian policies of regional powers such as Turkey and Iran, threatens even more widespread conflict than the devastating wars already underway in the Middle East. It is ordinary people, the citizens of the countries in conflict and the migrant workers whose labour keeps the economies of the Gulf countries afloat, who are paying the price,” said Burrow.

For more information, please contact the ITUC Press Department on +32 2 224 03 52 or mailto:press@ituc-csi.org