The Guardian: Migrant workers in Qatar forced to pay billions for job recruitment
An investigation by The Guardian found that migrant laborers in Qatar are being forced to pay billions in illegal "recruitment fees".
Migrant workers in Qatar have been forced to pay billions of dollars in recruitment fees to secure their jobs in Qatar over the past decade.
An investigation by The Guardian found that Bangladeshi men that have migrated to Qatar between 2011 and 2020 have paid close to $1.5 billion in recruitment fees. Nepalese migrants, meanwhile, are estimated to have paid possibly more than $400 million between mid-2015 to mid-2019.
Added to these are the fees paid by migrants from other labor-sending countries in Africa and South Asia, as they also have to pay high fees to recruitment agencies.
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Around a third of Qatar's 2-million strong workforce is made of migrants from Bangladesh and Nepal, who pay fees ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 for Nepal, and $3,000 to $4,000 for Bangladesh.
These workers typically have to work for at least an entire year just to pay off their "recruitment fees" on a wage that can be as little as $275 a month. Many of these workers are employed on World Cup-related construction projects, as Qatar is the host of the upcoming World Cup.
It was revealed last year that 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country won the right to host the World Cup in 2011. The number of deaths is expected to be higher than this, raising concerns about workplace security and conditions, especially since many of these deaths were not investigated by Qatari authorities.
The charging of these fees is illegal in both Qatar, as well as Nepal and Bangladesh (beyond a certain limit).
Typically, the fees are paid to agents in the workers' home countries before they leave, and usually very early on in the recruitment process. Since the amounts charged are exorbitantly high, and the recruits are promised relatively well-paying jobs, many of them have to take out high-interest loans or sell their land to afford them.
The workers are thus left vulnerable to debt bondage - a modern form of slavery -, as they are unable to leave their jobs until the debt has been completely repaid.
The vast majority of the workers are often victims of deals between employers and agents in Qatar, and the chain of recruiters and brokers in Nepal and Bangladesh who are there to profit out from every additional worker they send.
Some of those party to the corruption in Qatar even secure visas to recruit workers, and then demand kickbacks ranging from $300 to $500 for each worker from the agents in exchange for each visa. The cost is then passed on to workers.
A Qatar Foundation report said: “The costs borne by workers … are essentially ‘bribes’ demanded (extorted) by recruitment agents to secure the jobs in Qatar for which they enter into debt with high-interest rates.”
The Qatari government claims companies involved in these practices have been severely punished, and 24 such agencies have been shut down.
No release, even in death
Bangladeshi workers pay the highest fees by far. One example is that of a welder who was promised a monthly wage of $686, but was taken out to the desert and put to work on a farm for $220 a month. He had taken out a high-interest loan to secure his employment.
With him (and others) being constantly put to work, deprived of electricity or air-conditioning, and forbidden from leaving the compound, he was not allowed to return home until he begged for permission to visit his sick mother. Back in Bangladesh, his debt ballooned up to more than double the original amount, and he was forced to take out additional loans to pay off his original one.
One other example is that of Mahamad Nadaf Mansur Dhuniya from Nepal, who took out a loan with an annual interest rate of 48% to pay an agent who promised him a construction job in Qatar in 2018. He was hoping to earn money to look after his family, and for his daughter's dowry. Amid all these pressures, he was found hanging in his workplace last year.
His debt has now passed on to his wife, Mairal Khatun, who earns close to $75 a month; not enough to pay off the $1,236 debt and its interest.
“I have a lot of tension now. Before, we sometimes ate meat and milk but we’ve stopped now. How can we afford these things?” Khatun said. “I can’t sleep at night.”
Migrant workers aren't only left to suffer in Qatar, as it seems this is an issue prevalent in other Gulf countries as well.
The UAE is the most prominent offender. A Reuters report revealed that the UAE acknowledged that it had detained and deported over 400 people for alleged human trafficking, assault, and extortion. Many workers had their belongings completely confiscated by their bosses and deported.
Read more: Human rights group: Dubai Expo 2020 a hotbed for labor exploitation
A group of human rights organizations also revealed in a report on March 12 that up to 10,000 migrant workers from south and south-east Asia die every year in the Gulf region.