A Bleak Look at the Life of Migrant Workers Building Qatar's World Cup

Illustration for article titled A Bleak Look at the Life of Migrant Workers Building Qatar's World Cup

Workers sleeping 12 to a room without access to clean water. Young men dying from heart attacks due to the extreme heat. One man who has been trying to leave for five years, except his passport was taken by his boss, who has disappeared. It's the latest and most heartbreaking news on the highly controversial World Cup planned for Qatar in 2022.


Earlier this year, the International Trade Union Confederation released a scathing report that, due to unsafe construction methods and deplorable working conditions, up to 4,000 workers could die before construction is complete, with over 1,200 deaths already confirmed. In April, organizers announced that they were canceling four of the 12 planned stadiums (citing cost-cutting measures, by the way).

And that's not even all of the problems plaguing the games. Yesterday, the FIFA vice president said he'd consider a revote on the host city after allegations that Qatar fraudulently bought the World Cup with $5 million in secret payments.

Even before FIFA's revelations, several publications had been conducting investigative reports. Reporters from The Daily Record spent weeks documenting the conditions in the worker camps, and the stories and images are easily the most disturbing we've seen yet.

Here are just a few of the most horrific facts of life for migrant workers at a camp a half-hour drive from Doha, Qatar's largest city:

  • No access to toilets or clean water: "There was an overpowering smell of excrement as we arrived. There were no Western-style toilets but holes in the floor. Others washed themselves using buckets of water. Salty water was used for drinking and washing."
  • According to a labor representative, employees are more likely to die from heart attacks or heat stress than industrial accidents: "He said men as young as 25 were dying from heart attacks because of their working and living conditions."
  • The workers are trapped due to Qatar's kafala system: "Workers cannot change jobs or leave the country without their boss's permission. Some revealed that their employers had not paid them for months but they could not change jobs. Many have not seen their families for years."
  • And perhaps the most depressing fact: Per capita, Qatar is the richest nation on earth. [The Daily Record]



Well-written and received Alissa. Reports like this are necessary; the World should be aware that there is modern day slavery in Qatar, but folks should know this is not isolated to Qatar, nor is it isolated to the World Cup debacle. Qatar has the Kafala system, and Kuwait has the Kafeel system.

When I worked in Kuwait, I saw countless PUBLIC examples of slavery and abuse. In these oil-rich countries, much of the citizen population doesn't actually work, they are paid with oil profit dividends, usually based on some arcane proximity to the royal family. As a result, there are MILLIONS of migrant workers in the gulf that come for the promise of a better wage. Unfortunately, many of these workers become unwilling captives to gulf countries. Worse yet, the manner in which these workers become trapped is entirely legal and endorsed by the ruling class.

I saw Filipino and Pakistani maids being beaten, even stabbed with needles (a favorite form of punishment with the Kuwaitis). I witnessed store managers yelling at third country nationals (as the migrant workers are called) to get out of line so Kuwaitis could skip ahead. I heard countless stories of people, under the "legitimate" Kafeel system, having their passports 'hot-potato-ed' around (similar to the example in this story) which keeps them in-country indefinitely.

Things don't get any better for those that escape illegally. If the worker is lucky, they might make it to an overcrowded embassy-funded shelter, but most women who escape become concubines for piggish western contractors, sex slaves for (even more) unscrupulous Kuwaitis and yet more simply disappear, only to reappear as a small headline noting that they were murdered and dumped in some vast stretch of desert.

Reading headlines, such as the one for this story, always bring back bad memories, and it makes me want to scream, "If only you people knew the HALF of this situation." Trust me, Western-based contractors have just as much third country nationals' blood on their hands as any ruling power in the Gulf. Unfortunately, short of revolution or the oil wells running dry, nothing in this world has the power to correct this injustice.