Qatar human rights entity, Nepal reps. deny ‘slave labor’ allegations

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Seeking to control the damage done by last week’s report in the Guardian detailing labor abuses suffered by Nepali expats in Qatar, representatives from both countries held a press conference in Doha yesterday to refute the allegations.

Mohammad Ramadan, a legal adviser for Nepali nationals who is employed by the Nepali government, said, according to Reuters:

“We deny all that is mentioned in these false reports, and ask the bodies that publish them not to use Nepali workers as a means to achieve their inappropriate targets and agendas.”

“We also stress that all Nepali workers are safe and fully respected.”

The meeting comes two days before FIFA’s executive committee convenes to discuss shifting the 2022 World Cup from the summer to Qatar’s cooler winter months. Also on the agenda is a discussion of migrant labor issues, which were brought back into the spotlight by last week’s report.

During yesterday’s meeting, Ali al-Marri, the chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, admitted there have been “some problems” but denied there was a wider labor rights issue.

According to the Peninsulaal-Marri said:

“There is no slavery or forced labour in Qatar…There have been some problems, owing to the fact that there are 44,000 businesses in the country. But I can assure you that the authorities are constantly making efforts to resolve the problems.”

Also speaking at yesterday’s press conference was Narendra Bahadur Bhat, coordinator of Non-Resident Nepalese Association (NARA) Middle East, who disputed the number of Nepali deaths reported in the Guardian, which totaled 44 workers between June 4 and Aug. 8.

The Peninsula reports, citing Bhat:

“A total of 151 Nepalese citizens have died in Qatar this year including 15 at their workplace,” he said, adding the rest had died either in car accidents or of natural causes. “In 2012, Nepalese deaths in Qatar numbered 276, including 55, that is 20 percent, at their workplace.”

Workplace accidents have so far only accounted for 10 percent of deaths in 2013, Nepali legal adviser Ramadan added.

None of the Nepalese embassy officials who typically speak to local media and have previously discussed labor abuses here were on the panel. They have also been unavailable via phone for the past three days.

But previously, Second Secretary Harihar Kant Poudel told Doha News that working conditions such as lack of food, water and working in high temperatures played a role in Nepali construction workers’ deaths.

A record 32 Nepalis died in July, and many of the deceased were men in their 20s who reportedly suffered heart attacks. But Poudel suggested that some deaths were attributed to heart problems to cover up on-site accidents, saying:

“There have been cases where we have suspected that there has been a mutual understanding between the doctor and the company, and the doctor has made a false report saying that they died of cardiac arrest – it is easier for a company to say they died of that.”

Meanwhile, the Nepalese Ambassador to Qatar, who has been recalled by her government over poor diplomatic conduct and will be leaving this week, told reporters that she never called the country “an open jail.”

Despite acknowledging and apologizing for those remarks earlier this year, (which can be viewed here), Dr. Maya Kumari Sharma now said “it was the creation” of journalists from her country.

She added that the Guardian’s report was “wholly baseless and “a figment of the journalist’s imagination.”

There was no mention of the video footage of the 30-some Nepali men seeking shelter in a villa behind the embassy, who told the Guardian that they had problems with their sponsors in terms of payment of wages, and that the police would not help them.

Gulf Times, who interviewed Sharma yesterday, reports:

For about four years the unskilled Nepalese workers received a total salary of QR800 (including QR200 as food allowance). “Right now most companies are paying QR900 as salary and another QR300 as food allowance to their Nepalese workers,” she said while adding that even the revised salary is barely enough at a time when the living expenses have soared.

Asked if she had visited any labour camp during her nearly 18-month tenure in Qatar, Sharma said she had visited one camp and conditions there were found to be good.

Not all government-backed entities responded similarly to last week’s report. On Thursday, Qatar’s 2022 Supreme Committee released a statement, saying:

“Like everyone viewing the video and images, and reading the accompanying texts, we are appalled by the findings presented in The Guardian’s report. There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar, or anywhere else, to be treated in this manner.

Qatar’s Minister of Labor and Social Affairs also acknowledged the report this week, outlining a plan to tackle worker abuses, including stepping up enforcement of laws that are already in place to protect employees. 

That low-income expats here are vulnerable to mistreatment, which includes unhygienic accommodations, unpaid or late wages, the confiscation of passports and other abuses, have also been documented by other groups, including Human Rights Watch.

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Credit: Photo by Habeeb Abu-Futtaim Photography

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