Qatar World Cup – Inside the hell endured by migrant workers

England players train with migrant workers ahead of Qatar World Cup

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“I have been to Qatar probably about 20 times,” said Mustafa Qadri, a human rights lawyer from Australia. “It is, when you visit, a really comfortable place. It has great restaurants and hotels.” The comfort is not extended to everyone though. As founder of Equidem, a charity that works to promote workers’ and human rights around the globe, Mr Qadri has spoken to migrant workers who went without pay for as long as six months. He was while doing so.

Mr Qadri told “I was arrested in 2015 because I physically went into a camp. I was trying to speak to workers who hadn’t been paid for months and they were starving — that’s the other side of Qatar.

“It wasn’t a camp that’s linked to the World Cup, but it was run by one of the construction companies in Qatar. There’s a good chance that this company has worked on the World Cup though. We were told about these workers that hadn’t been paid in months. We spoke to these people and they were desperate.”

At this point, the “camp boss” turned up. Then came local law enforcement. It wasn’t long before Mr Qadri found himself in a police station. He wouldn’t be released for nine hours.

Mr Qadri continued: “We were eventually released. But we later discovered that the Minister of Interior wanted to prosecute us for trespassing.

“I had to sign a document that basically said I accept that I trespassed, I was basically forced to sign this paper I don’t agree with. This gave us a really good understanding of what life was like on the ground.”

His treatment at the hands of the police doesn’t come close to the ordeal faced by the many migrant workers who make up 90 percent of Qatar’s 2.8 million people.

Many of them have lost their lives building World Cup stadiums, but exactly how many is unknown. Qatar, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino, have previously put the number of worker deaths at just three. But this figure has been dismissed by charities and campaigners.

The Guardian reported that 6,500 workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka died between 2010 and 2021.

Amnesty International estimates that around 100,000 migrant workers have been exploited and suffered abuse because of poor labour laws and working conditions since 2010.

Earlier this year, Equidem released a report which included testimony from nearly 1,000 workers, 60 of which were in-depth interviews. They spoke of 14-18 hour shifts, working in extreme heat, and intimidatory tactics deployed by their employers.

Mr Qadri and his organisation are one of many voices calling for the workers to receive compensation for the treatment they have endured.

Qatar has always denied that workers’ rights have been violated and, responding to Equidem’s most recent report, the country’s supreme committee said it was “littered with inaccuracies and misrepresentations”.

Mr Qadri, however, recalled multiple examples of workers not receiving pay for months on end. He also explained how it was made near impossible for these vulnerable people to speak out about what was being done to them.

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“Journalists are going to Qatar, but workers were getting reprisals for even speaking to them,” he said. “One thing that comes out is the lengths companies took to hide workers from labour inspectors.

“Workers were facing across-the-board modern slavery practices – debt bondages, working in the heat, unpaid wages, verbal abuse, discrimination, unable to leave their job. It represents a reality that Qatar has hidden from the world.”

The most shocking stories Mr Qadri heard involved fake fire alarms which would get migrant workers away from the construction sites so that they were not seen by inspectors.

They were also denied access to water in case construction was slowed down, as per the workers’ testimonies. These alleged incidents took place at the Losail Stadium in Doha, the venue for the World Cup final.

Mr Qadri explained: “The thing that really shocked me was what happened at Losail Stadium. A company owned by the Qatari royal family treated workers in such an appalling way.

“They made them work in the heat when the risk of death is severe. They would deliberately limit workers’ access to water and bathrooms because this risked slowing down production.

“Workers talked in detail about how they were taken off-site in buses using fire alarms whenever labour inspectors were coming.

“We heard this from multiple people. They were clearly trying to hide workers from inspectors. It was so brazen.”

FIFA and the Qatari embassy in London have been approached for comment.

The plight of these workers continues to cast a shadow over the tournament. Ahead of the opening games, some national teams are using their platform to raise awareness.

The England squad is meeting a group of workers on Thursday at their Al Wakrah training complex in Doha. Migrant workers were also invited to train with the US national team.

Other parties have been more outspoken in their approach. In September, the Danish national team unveiled their protest kits, including a black shirt to honour the migrant workers who have died.

Hummel, the kit manufacturer, said the shirts were made in support of Denmark, not the tournament, “that has cost thousands of people their lives.”

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