Recent United Nations [UN] reports found that people in the Middle East have become more vulnerable to human trafficking during the coronavirus outbreak.
Qatar’s labour ministry’s National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking signed an agreement with the Qatari Red Crescent [QRCS] on Tuesday, aimed at creating and managing shelters for migrant workers and victims of human trafficking.
According to the Qatar News Agency [QNA], the agreement will enable the two bodies to step up their efforts in providing adequate protection and care to human trafficking victims while holding awareness programmes.
The agreement comes under the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs [MADLSA]’s efforts to coordinate with all authorities in Qatar to ensure the protection of migrant workers and victims of human trafficking.
The committee and QRCS are going to re-operate and manage shelters established for victims in line with international standards approved by the International Federation of the Red Crescent and the Red Cross.
The two sides will also join efforts in providing services related to the rehabilitation and reintegration of victims into society while sheltering stranded expatriate workers until they secure their departure from the country.
In 2019, the country’s committee to combat human trafficking inaugurated the “Human Care Center” in Al Maamoura, comprising six villas with the capacity to accommodate 52 persons each.
The head of the UN’s International Labour Organisation’s [ILO] office in Qatar at the time Houtan Homayounpour personally visited the shelter and described it as an important step in ensuring victims get access to justice.
The international community had praised Qatar for its efforts in combating human trafficking and its major labour reforms, namely the dismantling of the controversial sponsorship law, commonly known as the “kafala” system.
Earlier this year, the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report had applauded Qatar’s progress in fighting the global menace of human trafficking while highlighting areas of improvement for the Gulf state.
The report made special mention of MADLSA’s Assistant Undersecretary Mohammed Al-Obaidly, who was named a “Trafficking in Persons Report Hero” for his work in the field.
Al-Obaidly introduced several significant policies, including the creation of Labour Dispute Resolution Committees, the opening of the first and only shelter in Qatar for human trafficking victims, and the removal of exit permit requirements for migrant workers.
He also initiated the implementation of Qatar’s historic minimum wage, the first non-discriminatory minimum wage in the region, and the abolishment of the No Objection Certificate, which previously required workers to request permission from former employers to change jobs.
However, the US State Department’s report noted that Qatari authorities had failed to routinely investigate crimes such as employer passport retention, withholding of wages, labour violations, and complaints of abuse as potential trafficking crimes.
Recent numbers provided by Qatar’s Government Communications Office [GCO] revealed that MADLSA inspected 35,280 accommodation and worksites inspections in the first half of this year alone, which saw the issuance of 13,724 penalties to companies deemed to be in violation of Qatar’s labour laws.
This also led to “worksite closures, fines and prison sentences”, while an additional 4,840 visits were made to raise awareness on reforms among both employers and employees.
Human trafficking in the Middle East
The UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC] said that the coronavirus pandemic increased the chances of human trafficking in the Middle East as many who lost their jobs sought alternatives to earn a living, sometimes putting themselves in danger.
Closures of public sites in effort to curb the spread of Covid-19 also made it more difficult for victims to escape.
The UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking In Persons 2020 also said that countries of the Middle East and the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] “are destinations for victims trafficked from Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe and Central Asia”.
It also said that the majority of the cases reported in GCC countries were men, making up 52% of the victims as women made up 40%.