By Andrew Mills
DOHA (Reuters) – Workers in Qatar’s informal economy are especially at risk of exploitation during this year’s soccer World Cup and Doha must strive to prosecute human traffickers and identify their victims, U.S. Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya told Reuters.
The Gulf Arab state has come under intense scrutiny and criticism from human rights groups over its treatment of migrant workers in the run up to hosting the tournament next month, the first Middle Eastern country to do so.
“The World Cup presents a challenge in terms of the increased likelihood or possibilities to exploit vulnerable migrant workers and it’s all the more important to enforce the laws in place and to see more efforts to prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking,” Zeya said on Sunday during a visit to Doha.
“This is often a hidden crime and for particularly those in the informal economy … who have less access, let’s say, to law enforcement or to other institutions in place of protection,” added Zeya, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.
Migrant workers and other foreigners make up the majority of the Gulf state’s 2.8 million population. It is recruiting thousands of overseas temporary workers to augment its workforce during the month-long World Cup, when it expects 1.2 million visitors.
The government has said its labour system is a work in progress, but denied a 2021 Amnesty International report that thousands of migrant workers were still being exploited.
Zeya commended labour reforms introduced by Qatar in recent years but acknowledged “challenges” implementing the new rules which include protections against non-payment of wages, a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 riyals ($275) and allowing workers to change employers more easily.
“If fully implemented, they would really represent Qatar assuming a great leadership role regionally,” Zeya said, adding she was “heartened” the government recently reopened a shelter for human trafficking victims that shut during the pandemic.
Qatar has made “significant efforts” towards combating human trafficking but does not meet the U.S. government’s minimum requirements for the elimination of human trafficking, according to the State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons report.
(Reporting and writing by Andrew Mills; Editing by Ken Ferris)