Are we talking enough about migrant workers?

Are we talking enough about migrant workers?

Human Rights Watch held a press conference warning on the bad treatment received by some migrant workers in Qatar.
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Al Jazeera Arabic journalist prepares his coverage of the Human Rights Watch press conference.

A Human Rights Watch team was in Doha this morning to present their latest report focusing on the rights of migrant workers in Qatar. The country is already preparing to host the 2022 football world cup, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging its leaders to meet international human rights standards.

The 146-page document presented to the press today entitled “Building a Better World Cup – Protecting Migrant Workers in Qatar Ahead of FIFA 2022” is the product of a thorough investigation conducted between May and June 2011. It documents the daily lives of immigrant construction workers and low-wage workers in Qatar (mainly from Nepal and India) and common abuses they are facing – debts, passport confiscations, bad accommodations.

The report also includes pictures, key letters received by Human Rights Watch from construction companies hiring migrant workers, and a list of recommendations addressed to those getting Qatar ready FIFA world cup.

Ironically, the conference took place at Ramada hotel, one of Doha’s oldest hotels, located at the corner of Salwa Road leading to Industrial Area, the home for thousands of recruits working on construction sites.

HRW urges Qatar government to be more strict

The report authored by researcher Priyanka Motaparthy states that 191 Nepali workers died in 2010 and 98 Indian migrant died, including 45 young, low-income workers due to cardiac arrest thus far in 2012. Heat stroke is likely to have caused these sudden deaths said an Indian embassy spokesperson.

But official figures shared by Qatar’s Labor Ministry with the organisation are less dramatic: “Over the last three years, there have been no more than six cases of worker deaths. The causes are falls”, a representative wrote in a letter to Human Rights Watch.

“Qatar has good laws” tempered Motaparthy who also urged the government to reinforce them and get private construction companies to adopt better attitudes towards their employees working on building sites. She addressed a list of recommendations to Qatar’s government, private companies and FIFA begging them to implement these measures promptly, insisting that they "are not difficult and imminently doable”.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of HRW Middle East and North Africa division, blamed the employers’ relaxed attitude on “the insecurity of the nationals of this country” who are afraid of “what they will lose if the workers have rights”, and “conflict of interests laws” implemented by ministers who have shares in construction companies.

Journalists should cover these issues

Whitson then asked journalists to direct their questions to the Qatari government while Motaparthy admitted it would be “great to see a lot more coverage on this”. “I think that this is an issue that hasn’t been covered somewhat in the local press” she told DCMF. “People here can maybe say what they like on certain issues but when it comes to criticizing particularly the states of affairs here in Qatar, particularly when it comes to criticizing the Qatari government, there are a lot of self-imposed limitations" Motaparthy added.

Priyanka Motaparthy talks about lack of coverage of issues related to migrant construction workers living conditions in Qatar

Though it is true that the local press did not seem represented in the audience today, the presence of at least 4 journalists from Qatari network Al Jazeera was noted.

Reporter Charles Stratford who recently made a report on migrant workers in Doha following his management’s orders told DCMF that Al Jazeera was going to cover the issue with no restrictions, like any other major broadcaster would.

Coverage in other Gulf states

HRW’s Motaparthy welcomes Al Jazeera’s initiatives, past and present, but expects more from other Qatar-based media outlets who should follow the example of other Gulf states. 

She said, “Kuwait certainly has much more back and forth, much more debate on this issue… In the emirates you again see mixed coverage. You do see some reports of strikes, of worker grievances, but there is a lot of focus at what is happening at the top level… and very little investigative journalism towards what is happening specifically with different companies, with different projects.”

Motaparthy compares media coverage of migrant construction workers issues in different Gulf states

The media can also help improve living conditions of workers aside from simply informing the population on human rights abuses happening in front of their eyes. “

We did an awareness campaign [In Kuwait] which is something we would like to do here as well if we have the capacity” said Motaparthy before we parted.

Maybe the role of journalists in Qatar is to make sure they do.

All rights reserved, Doha Centre for Media Freedom 2017

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