GENEVA / DOHA (13 November 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, urged the Qatari authorities to use the 2022 World Cup to improve the situation of migrant workers and their families in the country. Qatar has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world; nearly 88 per cent of the total population are foreign workers, employed largely in construction, services and domestic work.
“I hope the 2022 World Cup will be used as an opportunity for Qatar to enhance the effective respect, protection and fulfilment of the rights of migrant workers,” Mr. Crépeau said at the end of his first official visit* to the country to assess the human rights situation of migrants.
He also called on the Government of Qatar to create a more positive perception of migrants in Qatari society, stressing that “migrants undertake important jobs in the country, are an essential part of Qatar’s economic success, and deserve to see their dignity and rights protected on par with that of citizens.”
“The vast majority of migrants in Qatar are in the country at the government’s invitation, and they have received work permits in order to fill labour needs, which are largely created by Qatar’s booming economy, massive construction projects, and widespread reliance on domestic workers,” the expert said.
The UN Special Rapporteur welcomed positive legislative developments in Qatar, such as the provision in the 2009 sponsorship law which made it illegal for sponsors to confiscate passports. However, he noted the need for effective enforcement of this law, as the practice seems to be still widespread.
Mr. Crépeau also warned that the 2004 labour law, while providing some important rights and safeguards for workers, does not provide for a minimum wage, bans migrants from forming organizations and from collective bargaining, and excludes domestic workers.
“Many of the migrants I met with had paid recruitment fees in their home countries in order to be able to travel to Qatar,” the expert noted, stressing need to formalize the recruitment process, and strictly monitor the role of private recruitment agencies. “I urge Qatari authorities to work together with countries of origin to ensure that migrants arrive in Qatar debt free.”
The Special Rapporteur urged Qatar “to thoroughly pursue its review of the kafala sponsorship system,” which is used to regulate the relationship between employers and migrant workers, with a work permit linked to a single employer, which in his view is problematic, and a source of abuse against migrants. “Migrants who ‘run away’ from abusive employers should not be detained and deported,” he stressed.
“Ultimately,” Mr. Crépeau said, “abolishing the kafala system and replacing it by a regulated open labour market, where the work permit allows the worker to change employer, will solve these issues, as well as ensure the mobility of labour and a better match of needs and skills.”
The expert drew special attention to the long term administrative detention, in some cases as much as one year, which can be applied to migrants awaiting deportation under the 2009 sponsorship law.
“I urge the authorities to systematically rely on non-custodial measures rather than detention,” he said. “As long as there is no risk of the migrant absconding from future proceedings, and they do not present a danger to themselves or others, detention is not necessary and thus a violation of their rights.”
Mr. Crépeau noted that the majority of the women in the country’s deportation centre had ‘run away’ from abusive employers, particularly the domestic workers, and they wanted to return to their countries of origin. “It is very unlikely that they present any risk of absconding,” he said.
“Accommodating such women in open shelters, instead of building a new ward for women at the deportation centre, would provide a much better and cheaper solution,” the independent expert noted. “Similarly, children should never find themselves in detention: migrant women with children should always be hosted in shelters.”
“In the central prison, there were several women who were sentenced to one year prison for ‘adultery’ for having a baby while being unmarried. These women thus live in the prison with their babies, in conditions which are in clear violation of the principle of the best interests of the child,” the UN Special Rapporteur underlined.
During his eight-day visit, the human rights expert met with Government representatives, representatives of the diplomatic community, the National Human Rights Committee, foundations, academics, as well as migrants themselves, including in labour camps, in the deportation centre, in the central prison, in shelters and in the streets.
Mr. Crépeau will present a comprehensive report of the visit to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014.
(*) Read the full end-of-mission statement:
François Crépeau (Canada) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in June 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three years. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Crépeau is also Full Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, in Montréal, where he holds the Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/SRMigrants/Pages/SRMigrantsIndex.aspx
Read the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CMW.aspx
UN Human Rights, country page – Qatar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/QAIndex.aspx
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