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JustHere | December 3, 2016

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Despite harsh criticism of Qatar’s migrant workers’ rights at European Parliament, no indication of an end to kafala system

The grave situation of migrant workers in Qatar was brought into focus at a hearing during the European Parliament in Brussels today morning. The country’s recently published Qatar 2022 worker’s welfare standards were also scrutinised.

Despite the wide coverage by international media on the abuse of rights that the thousands of workers engaged in 2022 World Cup construction projects faced in Qatar, the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) said it wouldn’t revoke the country’s right to host the international sporting event. Doing so would only worsen the situation of workers, Theo Zwanziger, a member of the FIFA executive committee was quoted saying in a report by The Wall Street Journal.

“I think that will be counterproductive [to take the 2022 World Cup away from Qatar]. There would still be human rights violations but the spotlight wouldn’t be on them.”

Commenting on the workers’ charter, FIFA commended the efforts made by Qatar to improve the situation, but said the onus of its successful implementation shouldn’t fall entirely on FIFA. (Read responses to Qatar 2022 welfare standards.)

The report further quoted Zwanziger saying: “What do you expect from a football organization? Qatar is a sovereign country and we should respect its right to self-determination… Qataris are intelligent people who know what they need to do to fix this problem.”

No end to kafala?

The hearing also didn’t see any solution to the kafala system plaguing that has left many workers trapped in the country. French footballer Zahir Belounis who was trapped in Qatar with his family after being refused an exit permit by his football club, also testified during the session, but there was no indication from FIFA if this sponsorship system would witness any reforms.

The lax response from the football federation has left human rights groups members disappointed.

In a press statement, Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC said that FIFA and other organisations should “not be complicit in treating workers as slaves in Qatar and the escalating death toll”.

“We want hear from the FIFA President and Executive Committee about how they will guarantee that the World Cup must only go ahead if there is legal reform to kafala and for workers’ rights.  The new charter from World Cup organisers in Qatar sets out sham conditions, without even any means to ensure that companies comply.”

Amnesty International had released a hard-hitting report on the exploitation of migrant construction workers in Qatar in November last year. The report titled ‘The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup’ highlighted some of the major issues that workers faced including: non-payment of wages, poor standards of accommodation, forced unpaid labour and blackmailing. Read full report here.

The full proceedings of the conference can be viewed here.

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