Following up on a week-long visit to Qatar in November, a United Nationals human rights expert has released a detailed report listing his findings, and urged the country to adopt reforms to protect its migrant worker segment.
Last year, François Crépeau, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, met with several people living in labor camps, as well as expats in shelters, deportation centers and the central prison.
He also met with several senior level officials, including the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Prosecution.
In his report, which was released on Friday – months earlier than expected – Crépeau once again stressed his recommendation that Qatar abolish several tenets of its restrictive kafala system, including the no objection certificate (NOC) that expats must obtain from their sponsors before switching employers.
He criticized punishing expats who leave their employers without an NOC, and who are labeled as runaways. “They lose their residence permit and risk fines, imprisonment and deportation. The Special Rapporteur believes this system can amount to forced labour.”
He also said many government officials “were of the opinion that the kafala system is problematic,” and that he has been told that Qatar is seriously reviewing its sponsorship law.
Meanwhile, today’s Peninsula reports several businessman as saying the government has been discussing with them potential changes to the law, and that reform could be imminent.
The current sponsorship system in Qatar maintains support in the business community for several reasons, many of which Crépeau took issue with. In his report, he said:
“It has been argued that the kafala system is necessary because of the large number of migrants in Qatar. This cannot be used as an excuse for maintaining legislation that renders migrants vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The Qatari authorities decide on the number of migrants they wish to admit to their territory. The demographic situation in Qatar is thus a result of Government policies and decisions, a nationwide choice of rapid development and a high level of household services.”
However, supporters of kafala argue that without the system, many Qatari businesses would not be protected. Speaking to the Peninsula, Remy Rowhani, CEO and Director General of Qatar Chamber (QC), explained why many sponsors fear change to the exit permit system. He said:
“The problem is that if someone is under my sponsorship and he has signatory powers, such as the right to sign checks etc, he can do that and leave the country, and I will not be able to have a say in it. After he is gone, the concerned bank will come to me and ask me to repay the millions of riyals he has taken away.”
However, Crépeau argued that such logic would only apply to a small number of expats, which “does not justify the preemptive punishment of thousands. It is a source of abuse and there is no valid justification for maintaining this system.”
Another incentive to preserve kafala may be the high cost of recruiting expats to Qatar, and the sponsors’ desire to hold on to their “investments.” The rapporteur suggested addressing this by reducing the amount of money paid to recruitment companies and lowering the cost of visas.
One of the biggest hurdles to change may be widely held negative perceptions of migrant workers, who are often seen as the “property” of their employers, rather than human beings, Crépeau said. He continued:
“This is reflected in the systematic exploitation of migrants, who often live in slum-like conditions, work excessive hours in difficult and dangerous conditions and are often not paid for several months. Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to such practices. This may unfortunately reveal entrenched discrimination, if not racism, when the victims are non-Qataris.”
Earlier this week, Amnesty International alluded to this problem in its new report on domestic workers in Qatar, saying media coverage of maids often stigmatizes this segment of the population by painting them as maids, witches and “a threat to the future of society.”
Crépeau suggested mitigating this issue by urging authorities to create a more positive perception of expats in society and by highlighting these workers’ contributions.
Qatar attempted to do this over National Day in December 2013, theming the celebrations “One Love” to symbolize unity between locals and expats. But because celebrations were divided by nationality, the theme ended up prompting a debate about how difficult it is to integrate a country as demographically diverse as Qatar.
The rapporteur also called the tiered wage system for different nationalities, in which two people from different countries do not collect the same salaries for the same work, a form of racial discrimination.
In addition to abolishing kafala tenets such as the NOC and exit permit system, Crépeau recommended that Qatar work to ensure expats are properly informed of their rights. For example, employment contracts should be written in a language that the people signing them can read and understand.
He also suggested establishing a minimum wage and urged giving workers the right to organize (expats are currently not allowed to unionize).
Another recommendation was to become more transparent by collecting and publishing data on workplace accidents, complaints and abuse. He also suggested auditing construction companies and making the results public.
Regarding the court system, Qatar has long planned to establish a tribunal to solve labor disputes. Crépeau urged action on this plan, and recommended the court be easy to access, and offer interpreters, legal aid and quick settlements to disputes and enforcement of decisions.
Finally, he urged Qatar to bring domestic workers into the fold of the Labor Law, to ensure their rights are protected. The plight of these women is detailed in the Amnesty report published this week.
Here’s the full report:
kafala system should be amended. there’s one filipino i know, they haven’t got salaries for more than 3 months, some of them still don’t have the RP for more than 3 months also. They couldn’t resign or leave because of the kafala system and its not just a company its one of the best companies to work here.
…One of the biggest hurdles to change may be widely held negative perceptions of migrant workers, who are often seen as the “property” of their employers, rather than human beings. The fear of this employers loosing their hold over their employees and not being able to hold them to ransom makes them so jittery and unsure of themselves. In doing away with Kafala and this exit permit procedures this places in the Middle East could join the ranks of London, New York, Munich, Tokyo, etc for fine work culture and good work practices instead of being places the world does not want to talk about.
‘Ahead of expected changes’
Has Doha news bought into that lie as well?
For every person who faces kafala challenges, there are ten who arrive, rack up debt, abuse the hospitality and flee like cowards. The policy makers know that. The citizen to non-citizen ratio in the country is was too imbalanced to abolish kafala.
Really? Based on what factual data? Every foreigner who works in Qatar faces kafala challenges. The suggested ratio is highly implausible given how dramatically expats are out numbered by laborers who are hard pressed to rack up debt. If the debt is indeed a problem, shouldn’t banks tighten their credit policies? What’s more, the vast majority of foreigners working in Qatar cannot “flee” at will if they lack their passport (which many reports assert are in the hands in their employer) or an exit visa. Most foreigners do not have the luxury of a multiple entry/exit visa and rely on their employer to grant them permission. The assertion that such people flee flies in the face of how difficult it can be to exit the kafala system.
First, I don’t understand why you’re differentiating between ‘expats’ and laborers because the laborers are expats, too. If it’ll make you feel better distancing yourself from them then by all means…
Secondly, if this is about factual data, then what factual data do you have that removing kafala is better? The status quo is kafala, if you want to make a change, you have to bring your evidence.
Thirdly, “the vast majority of foreigners working in Qatar cannot flee,” you say? Then kafala has achieved its objective.
I hate to be the one to say this as I was always against this kind of attitude, but the barrier kafala symbolizes is exactly because people like you and the rest of the people on this blog want to change the country to your liking. We don’t want to change. Period. Qatar shouldn’t have to adapt to the expats in the country (that’s why we pay you), the expats should adapt to the country.
And as always, the phrases I hate but are basically begging to be stated: 1) You should have done your research. 2) If you don’t like it then there’s around 200 other countries you can go work in.
You can moan all you want, at the end of the day you’re just a commenter on a blog that’s seen as an anti-qatar propaganda tabloid by the majority of the native population and basically still exists because of a guardian angel in government. This site is one mood swing away from being closed down.
-I make the distinction because generally, one group is paid more and has more privileges than the latter. Otherwise, you are correct. We are both in the same boat.
-As for data to the contrary, take your pick. Most of the rest of the world has moved away from such systems. Additionally, please take note that that my previous post did not advocate change anywhere. It simply took issue with your post’s unsubstantiated “facts.”
-I nor my post advocate change. It was simply pointing out the unlikliness of your claims. I am a guest and not a citizen; policymaking is not my decision. I would observe however that the kafala system is a disincentive for many forcing Qatar to pay more for foreign expertise. If that is in the interests of Qatar, so be it.
In response to your second argument: Take my pick from what? How many countires do you know have a 4:1 foreigner to citizen ratio? There is no data for a situation like this one.
You’re playing like you’re the man of facts when you can’t possibly provide one single piece of empirical data that is applicable to a country the size of Qatar with the similar demographics.
Also, the purpose of kafala is not to prevent visitors from leaving, it’s to hold Qatari’s responsible for whatever issues may arise from those they sponsor. If you give someone an exit permit, you’re fully responsible for the deeds they have done while in the country under your sponsorship. Is a requirement of that the prevention of people leaving whenever they want to? It is. So it’s applied.
I’m not trying build a hospitable society for you or anyone else. I’m building this place for my kids and grand kids and so on. We’re in a unique position to not have to worry about money and still be able to stick to my culture and traditions. If I have to keep everyone on a short leash to do that then I will.
This little piece of land on this planet is for me and my people. There’s another 99.9% of the planet you can go to. So please take your white-guilt tainted morality elsewhere.
Pot calling kettle black.
Exactly like Qatar? No. Qatar is unique. Similar? Sure. Singapore (if we think historically) and Hong Kong have some similarities. Small European states like Luxembourg as well.
As I said before, Qatar is perfectly free to run its internal affairs as it sees fit. I’ve not claimed otherwise nor would I. I’m not a citizen and it’s not my place.
Finally, it’s not about race. It’s about treating people with dignity and respect because they are human. If that is “white-guilt tainted morality,” then so be it.
Expat workers come to Qatar to two main reasons.
1. They can earn a living
2. Qatar invites them to come because without the expat workforce Qatar would remain undeveloped.
It is a symbiotic relationship, both benefit equally, and it is thoughtless to suggest that either party should be more grateful than the other. The Expat can always work elsewhere, particularly those in the professions, and indeed there may well be something of an exodus given the Award of Expo 2020 to Dubai. Qatar can of course recruit replacements by offering more incentives, but the loss is about knowledge and experience rather than mere labour.
Expats like working in Qatar, but find the kafala system irksome and in fact a little demeaning, like having to ask Teacher for permission to use the bathroom. In these days of technology, iris recognition, there is no way anyone could leave if they have a criminal charge, and certainly bank details could easily be linked in some way. For Qatar, kafala prevents labour movement, limits career progression, job satisfaction therefore productivity and can mean that when the best person is not in the job, they cannot easily be replaced
Most other nations manage it, I hope it is now just a matter of time until Qatar reflects on this policy- it is detrimental to the wider community and has been shown to disproportionately benefit the few.
One last point: “‘The vast majority of foreigners working in Qatar cannot flee’ you say? Then kafala has achieved its objective.”
Really?!? What kind of hospitable society do you want to build and maintain where you feel it is necessary to have in place a system of laws whose purpose is to prevent visitors from leaving?
Well, we don’t like it, and we’re staying, and we’re going to keep moaning. So there.
lol Made me chuckle 🙂
In regards to factual date, the United Arab Emirates has a less restrictive system of sponsorship and hasn’t yet collapsed.
This problem can be solved by following a credit rating system implemented by banks across the world, this provides information on those who are at potential risk in repaying their loans on time and also useful marker while dispensing future loans to those with a negative rating.
On the issue of imbalance population, Qataris need to interact with the expats population and understand their social requirement, the Kafalaa system is not a solution rather a barrier for the expats to evolve the Country’s social fabric. There is no doubt that with reformed labor practices & an efficient justice system will improve security & development practices for Qatar’s prosperity.
Exactly, they should all be kept on a tight leash.
Like dangerous vicious animals who harm innocent humans.
If all these people are fleeing despite the kafala system, what is the point of it ? Isn’t it supposedly designed to prevent this?
HalfManArmy, you challenge others to offer ‘factual data’ that changing the kafala system will be advantageous, can you tell me where you found the statistics that 10 out of every 11 expat workers gets into debt then flees the country? I know so many expats, but don’t know any who fit that description, which means there must be huge swathes of the population recklessly borrowing then somehow getting out of the airport without an exit visa.
I also wondered if you could explain how the kafala system keeps Qatar ‘balanced’? Is there some sort of special ratio of Qatari to non-Qatari resident which it maintains?
Another foreign ‘expert’ who comes and spend a couple of weeks and then wants to tell Qatar how to run their business. If people don’t like what they hear then don’t come. But they will still come, because there is money to be made here.
As a member of the UN and as a signatory of the UN covenant, Qatar has a responsibility to uphold its promises. Yes, the citizen to non-citizen ratio is high, as someone mentioned, but the report is not calling for migrants to be naturalized or for migrants to be given the same rights e.g. Free water and electricity, as Qataris. Also Qatarization would still be in place. Calling for the implementation of laws that respect the basic human rights of these migrants is necessary to ensure the long-term development of this country. As for ‘if you don’t like it don’t come mentality’ that only applies to things expats don’t like that don’t constitute as human rights violations. I as a Qatari citizen fully urge my fellow nationals to support this legislation because it’s fair… It does not infringe on anyone’s rights and if we are serious about calling ourselves a ‘Muslim country’ then it’s time we lived up to the standards our religion has set about dealing with others and respecting others. God said we should all be equal under the eyes of the law, it’s about time we started believing that too. This is a great opportunity to clear our collective conscience.
Well said thankyou sir.
Not to sound sassy, but it’s ma’am 😀 sorry, I just had to make that point
Such a well thought out and measured statement. Everyone fears Change, it is in our natures to hold on to the familiar. Change can be good, it reinvigorates and encourages innovation. Qatar is a feisty nation, and has moved forward at such an incredible pace it is no wonder that its citizens are a little breathless at times. I hope the pace continues unabated, it will bring great benefit to Qatar and Qataris.
I applaud your comment. There are many, many expats such as myself who wish to help make Qatar a better place for all. We get fed up with ‘Qatar bashing’ from media who seem to have a particular negative bias. Trying to build a modern , well running society in such a short time is not easy, but it can be done. I would very much like to see more professional forums for locals and expats to get together to exchange views and ideas on how to accomplish betterment of the country as a whole. It is then imperative for government to follow up on the best accepted ideas.
Agreed 😀 We should have more national debates, and not just on internet forums. Those debates would be interesting to watch. I think it could also really bridge gaps between the locals and the expats, because perhaps these debates would help people understand each other other more, and find points of consensus between the two communities, and perhaps common concerns, like the broken justice system, can then be fully addressed. Personally, I am completely and utterly against the kafala system, and I think people don’t want to abolish it simply because it ushers in change, as someone I think has already mentioned. But we need to change, and people need to understand change is not always bad.
So, where do we go to get these discussions started )?
Perhaps, but when everyone who comes keeps on saying the same thing, perhaps it’s time to reconsider one’s position.
The question is not about the money, it took more than 9 years to build the Airport, Qatar has got only 8 years left to prepare itself for the games, will throwing money at the end solve this problem?
graylag, does it not worry you that with all of the media focus on the sponsorship system here , which is seen by many as a form of slavery, including human trafficking in the case of those souls duped into paying fees to come here, that the very expatriate workers you need will be discouraged from coming at all? Qatar needs the expatriate workforce to maintain it’s programme of construction, knowledge transfer and educational excellence. it is now in direct competition with GEC neighbors, who have a more internationally acceptable form of immigration control and labour laws. The foreign expert you refer to is representative of the UN, to which Qatar belongs and supports. His analysis is not telling Qatar how to run it’s business, it is highlighting some of the issues which the UN finds unacceptable.
There really is nothing to fear from reform, the vast majority of expat workers come here, live peacefully, work hard for their families, then leave, as unlike many other countries, Qatar doesn’t let anyone reside here. So Qatar can never be viewed as home by a non-Qatari, never be seen as a long term option in which to live work and bring up a family . It all remains yours.
I feel relaxed after reading this news…In 32 years of my life something positive i feel about the changes..fingers crossed
How will you be able to eat in the next ten years with your fingers crossed waiting for the changes?
By eating 1 riyal qaboos….lol
lol……. Joke of the Day
Well you’ll have to get your maid (on your sponsorship) to feed it to you….
U mean qfm is run by maids. Lol
Such Naivety. I am a prince from Nigeria. If you arrange for QR1000 for my bank procedures, I will transfer 1 million to your account!!!
Kafala is bad and repressive and it leads to a lot of abuse not necessarily by the locals but by others in the HR dept. and in higher positions at the organization. Some persons with power over others use it to play around with colleagues they don’t want or cannot get along with at this organizations. Some of this persons in high positions use stupid excuses like imaginary recession or lack of new business excuses to remove, deport and do away with colleagues who stand in their way using loopholes in this Kafala system.
I found this interesting paragraph from the report (see the last half of the last sentence). If only…
“A common practice reported to the Special Rapporteur was the buying and selling of visas, as a result of the “block visa” system. Reportedly, there are companies in Qatar with no employees, which are registered in order to get visas from the Ministry of Labour and then sell these visas to the highest bidder. Such fraud in relation to migrants is part of a pattern of violations of the law that contrast with the immediate and stiff sanctions for violations of the traffic rules, for example.”
I’m surprised you didn’t know this, Pakistani visas go for 45,000 on the black market a a visas for them are very difficult to get. As you need a Qatari sponsor to register a company you would expect more Qataris in jail for this type of visa fraud
Sorry – I was referring to the last part of the paragraph: “that contrast with the immediate and stiff sanctions for violations of the traffic rules, for example.”
That is what surprised me…given what we see on Doha’s roads.
“The Special Rapporteur believes this system can amount to forced labour”….why these People is afraid of telling that it amounts to slavery…?????
You have no idea what real slavery is, or was.