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QATAR Gulf Paradise Migrant Workers’ Nightmare

The tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar is an oasis of peace and prosperity in the volatile Middle East. While neighbouring Bahrain convulsed with social unrest and a brutal government crackdown, Qatar ‘a gleaming, wealthy sovereign nation’ has been largely untouched by the revolutions sweeping across the Arab world.

Fuelled principally by large liquefied gas/energy projects and high oil prices, Qatar’s real GDP surged by 19 per cent in 2011, following a 17 per cent expansion in 2010, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Qatar also boasts flourishing petrochemicals and fertilizers industries.

In addition, Doha plans to diversify its economy by developing its financial services and tourism sectors and is also slated to spend a total of $125 billion on infrastructure upgrade investments over the next five years.

The US has invested tens of billions of dollars into Qatari energy ventures.

Moreover, according to reports, Qatar’s current account surplus for both in 2011 and 2012 will rise above 20 per cent of nominal GDP. Qatar is expected to record a fiscal surplus of 12.6% in 2011 and another even bigger surplus in 2012.

With GDP per capita of almost $80,000, Qatar is perhaps the wealthiest nation on earth (the figure for the US is about $48,000).

In addition, last year, government workers saw their salaries jump by 60 per cent.

When the World Cup is held here in 2022, Qatar’s crowning as a global hub of plenty will be complete.


Qatar’s success is largely based on the huge influx of migrant workers who have poured into the nation in recent decades. These workers have flocked to Qatar in such numbers that native Qataris are now a minority in their own country.

QATAR: AT A GLANCE

Location: Middle East, peninsula bordering the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia
Area
Total:
11,586 sq km (166th in the World)
1.    Land: 11,586 sq km
2.    Water: 0 sq km
Land Boundaries
Total: 60 km
Bordering Countries: Saudi Arabia 60 km
Elevation Extremes
Lowest Point: Persian Gulf 0 m
Highest Point: Tuwayyir al Hamir 103 m
Natural Resources
(i) Petroleum (ii) Natural Gas (iii) Fish
Ethnic Groups
Arab 40%, Indian 18%, Pakistani 18%, Iranian 10%, other 14%
Languages
Arabic (official), English commonly used as a second language
Religions
Muslim 77.5%, Christian 8.5%, other 14% (2004 census)
Population
2,042,444 (146th in the World)
Net Migration Rate
33.31 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2nd in the World)
Major Urban Areas
Doha (capital) 427,000 (2009)
Literacy
Total: 96.3%
1.    Male: 96.5%
2.    Female: 95.4%
Country’s Name
1.    Conventional Long Form: State of Qatar
2.    Conventional Short Form: Qatar
3.    Local Long Form: Dawlat Qatar
System of Government
Emirate
Capital
Doha
Independence
3 September 1971 (from the UK)
Constitution
Ratified by public referendum 29 April 2003; endorsed by the Amir 8 June 2004, effective 9 June 2005
Legal System
Mixed legal system of civil law and Islamic law
Executive Branch
Chief of State: Amir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (since 25 June 2013)
Head of Government: Prime Minister Abdallah bin Nasir bin Khalifa Al Thani (since 26 June 2013)
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad bin Abdallah al-Mahmud (since 20 September 2011)
Cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the emir
Legislative Branch
Unicameral Advisory Council or Majlis al-Shura (45 seats; 15 members appointed; 30 members to be elected by popular vote)
Judicial Branch
Highest Court(s)
Court of Cassation (consists of the court president and several judges
Supreme Constitutional Court (consists of the chief justice and 6 members)
Subordinate Courts: Courts of Appeal; Courts of First Instance; Sharia Courts; Courts of Justice
Lyrics: Sheikh Mubarak bin Saif al-Thani
Music: Abdul Aziz Nasser Obaidan
GDP – per capita (PPP)
$103,900 (2012 est.) (Holding the first position in the World)
Fiscal Year
1 April – 31 March
Exports Commodities
Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), Petroleum Products, Fertilizers, Steel
Exports Partners
Japan 26.6%, South Korea 19%, India 12%, Singapore 5.7%, China 5.4% (2012)
Natural Gas Production
116.7 billion cu m (2010 est.) (6th in the World)
Natural Gas Exports
113.4 billion cu m (2nd in the World)
Natural Gas Proved Reserves
25.2 trillion cu m (Third Largest in the World)

Of a total population of 1.7 million, only about 390,000 are native Qataris, the remainder is foreign migrants, with the largest portion coming from India (24 per cent); followed by Nepal (16 per cent); Philippines (11 per cent); Sri Lanka (5 per cent); Bangladesh (5 per cent); and Pakistan (4 per cent).

Since 2001, the country’s population has more than tripled in concert with a massive construction boom that has transformed a once remote desert outpost into a modern, sophisticated super-mini-state.

Qatar is a tremendous attraction for workers from poverty-stricken countries.

Workers from Europe also move to Qatar in search of plentiful jobs.

Dan Pascut, a college graduate from economically fragile Romania, works as a parking valet for a luxury hotel in Doha. ‘For me, this is just the first step,’ he told. Working in a hotel chain, you get a lot of opportunities.

The hotel industry offers the chance to start low, but to grow within the company and put into practice everything you have learned at university. Pascut has no intentions of returning home to Romania.

Qatar is one of the biggest gas exporters in the world, so for a professional like it is an attractive place.

However, underneath all the glitter and gold of Qatar’s huge success, lurks a very dark and disturbing underbelly. Migrant workers from poor countries in South Asia and the Far East are underpaid, overworked, exploited and abused in Qatar.

In connection with the upcoming 2022 World Cup, many international trade unions have urged FIFA, the governing body of soccer, not to stage the tournament in Qatar, likening labour conditions in the country to ‘modern slavery.’

‘Migrant workers in Qatar have no labour rights, wages are exploitative and occupational health and safety risks are extreme,’ International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) general secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement.

Indeed, Qatar’s fabulous wealth has come at a terrible price.

‘We asked the FIFA secretary general if they wanted their stadiums to be built by slave workers, by exploited labour,’ Ambet Yuson, general secretary of Building and Wood Workers International said.

 Qatar’s success is largely based on the huge influx of migrant workers who have poured into the nation in recent decades.
FIFA itself said that it will seek to discuss labour issues in Qatar with local authorities.

However, the situation remains dire for migrant workers.

J. Ocean Dennie describes the plight of migrant workers in Qatar as a crisis with little hope for resolution in the following words:

‘In recent years, numerous accounts have surfaced of migrant workers subjected to abuse and ill-treatment by their employers,’ he wrote, including complaints of ‘unpaid wages, excessive working hours, heavy debt burdens from exorbitant recruitment fees, isolation and forced confinement resulting in physical and psychological abuse.’

Amnesty International reported that in 2007, 20,000 migrant workers in Qatar simply ran away from their employers. Many migrants, fearing prosecution and deportation, don’t even bother reporting the abuse they suffer.

These workers usually originate from uneducated and impoverished classes, lured by desperation into working abroad in order to improve their lives and support family members back home. There is a tremendous sense of honour in accepting such employment abroad. This can be compounded by severe pride where workers frequently lie to their families about their living conditions.

Migrants are also exploited by unscrupulous recruitment agents in their native countries who make grandiose promises, charge high fees for travel documents, often pushing the workers deeply into debt.

Migrant workers have little scope to file complaints against abusive employers, given the undeveloped status of labour rights organizations in the country.

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