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This is the “kafala” system in Qatar

By Guillermo Dominguez

The media frequently remind us of the 6,500 workers who died in the construction of the 2022 World Cup stadiums in Qatar, as revealed by The Guardian in February 2021.

A scandalous figure that contrasts with the two workers who died in the construction of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa or the ten people who lost their lives in the construction of the stadiums for Brazil 2014.

In other words, taking into account that the works of the Qatari stadiums have lasted more than a decade —since the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar in December 2010—, the average number of deaths is 12 a week, always according to the British tabloid.

World Cup stadiums in Qatar, This is the “kafala” system in Qatar
Qatar emir Tamim bin Hamad (Photo internet reproduction)

However, FIFA and the organizing committee of Qatar 2022 assure that the death toll is… three! “There have been three work-related fatalities and 37 non-work-related deaths,” defended Nasser Al-Khater, executive director (CEO) of Qatar 2022, who accuses the international press of using that figure of 6,500 deaths. in order to “create negativity” against his country.

Nicholas McGeehan, director of Fair/Square —one of the non-governmental organizations that has most insistently denounced the lack of guarantees for foreign workers in Qatar—, assures that there has been “great negligence with the protection” of the workers and that “most of the deaths and injuries could have been prevented.”

Fair/Square is one of the NGOs that give names and surnames to deceased workers. Heartbreaking is the case of Rupchandra Rumba, a 24-year-old Nepali who traveled to Qatar in the hope of earning money for his family. Deceived, he disbursed a large sum to be able to move to the Gulf country, where she worked for two months on the scaffolding of the Education City Stadium, one of the World Cup stadiums, with a very low salary.

He returned to Nepal… but he did so in a coffin: he died on June 23, 2019 of a heart attack, after enduring work days of more than 12 hours, seven days a week, with temperatures around 50 degrees. The Qatari authorities included him in the “Non-Work Related Deaths” statistics and Rupchandra’s widow received compensation of €1,900.

Amnesty International (AI) also vehemently denounces what is happening in Qatar and has launched the #PayUpFIFA campaign to demand that the highest body in world football dedicate part of the income generated by the Cup to repair and compensate migrant workers who have suffered unfortunate conditions.

A compensation fund that, according to AI, should be “at least US$440 million”, which is the same amount that FIFA allocates to participating teams in prizes.


But what really happens in Qatar? Exorbitant recruitment fees, forced labor in deplorable conditions, late payment of very low wages (and even non-payment), and long hours of work without a single day off.

It is “our daily bread” that the migrant worker has to endure within the kafala system (“sponsorship” in Arabic), a system also implemented in other Middle Eastern countries (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan) which constitutes one of the clearest forms of slavery in the world.

This system, which has its roots in the traditional economy of pearling in the Gulf, exploits and denigrates people, plunging them into a maze from which it is difficult to escape.

It was created at the beginning of the 20th century and underwent a notable expansion in the 1950s with the aim of attracting foreign labor, granting migrants a special status that allowed them to work without having to complete the complex procedures required for a visa.

But the kafala system, whose workforce comes mostly from developing countries in Southeast Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines) and North Africa, ended up perverting over the years and the bosses (kafeel) have ended up enjoying a set of legal means to be able to enslave migrant workers with impunity, who need a visa to be able to work in the country of destination: the employer can cancel the residence permit at any time, leaving the worker as an illegal and with the risk of being deported.

In addition, the employee cannot change jobs or leave the country without permission from his employer, with which he ends up being subjected to a series of superhuman abuses.

Another important point in kafala is the need for the figure of an intermediary who can collect more than 35% of the monthly salary of the workers.

Without forgetting that racism is something very present in the system. Proof of this are the wages of workers, which vary considerably depending on their country of origin.

For example, in Lebanon, Filipinos are the best paid with an average salary of $450 per month, which is three times what a Bangladeshi citizen earns on average.

In the specific case of Qatar, the country has a population of 2.6 million inhabitants, of which 1.7 million are foreign workers who, of course, are included in the kafala system. Hundreds of thousands of people totally unprotected due to the absence of unions, which are prohibited by law in the emirate.

In November 2017, the Qatari authorities made a commitment to the International Labor Organization (ILO) to abolish the kafala system and carry out a series of labor law reforms that were to enter into force by 2022.

Among other things, they it allowed workers to provide them with complaint channels and have a minimum wage of US$275 a month.

Five years later, Amnesty International ensures that these reforms are still not applied in the vast majority of cases; slavery continues to be institutionalized in Qatar, as in many countries in the area, while the emirate and FIFA continue to fill their pockets without shame.

With information from La Gaceta de la Iberosfera

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