Qatar: Some workers lack legal status at World Cup host country

Written by Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, CNN Washington D.C.

The FIFA World Cup in Qatar is just a few years away, but its impressive growth plans in the world’s largest soccer country could face some backlash if its decision makers don’t address the rights of the country’s native population.

While the 2022 tournament is supposed to bring jobs, development and prosperity to Qatar, 1.4 million migrant workers are expected to be employed building stadiums, roads and sports stadiums in the tiny country.

Many of these workers are Egyptians who have worked in Qatar for years to build the host nation’s infrastructure, but the legal status of some of them is complicated.

A makeshift tent for migrants in Khaifa City, Qatar. Credit: Courtesy Nael Enezi, Khaifa City

Laws regarding migrant workers in Qatar vary based on the country’s nationality. While Egyptians in Qatar are only allowed to work in agriculture, illegal construction workers have been forced to get work in illegal factories in other professions.

Mohamed Hassan Hassan, a Qatari and a human rights activist, is calling for more public debate about the issue.

His mission is to raise awareness about his country’s treatment of migrant workers and to extend his support to Egyptian workers in Qatar who find themselves without legal status.

“There are millions of Egyptians in Qatar; their living conditions here is horrible. They earn slave wages,” said Hassan.

A protest against Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers. Credit: Courtesy Ahmed al-Enezi, Khaifa City

“The question that’s been raised is what rights do they have? Are they going to get a chance to stand before authorities?”

On February 21, Hassan launched a petition calling for Qatar’s World Cup organizers to establish a panel of workers’ rights advisors to help workers navigate the system of migration in Qatar.

The petition already has more than 300,000 signatures.

“There are a number of areas that need to be addressed so that these workers can provide accurate information,” said Sohaib Abbasi, a visiting scholar at Georgetown University’s Center for Women’s Leadership, who follows the migrant worker issue in Qatar.

The exact number of migrant workers in Qatar is unknown. With the World Cup now eight years away, the issue has yet to gain more international attention.

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“The government has only stated that they’re planning to increase the number of workers in Qatar, and the World Cup,” said Abbasi. “Clearly, at some point this will raise political concerns about the numbers of migrant workers in Qatar.”

Shiamldin Masri, an Egyptian activist, was unhappy that the petition had gone unanswered by authorities.

“If the Qatari government was going to do anything about this, it’s clear that they have not been very responsive to the petition,” he said.

“I really felt that this was a good moment to tackle the issue,” Masri said. “I wanted to make the migration system in Qatar more accountable. That’s why I started the petition.”

Many Egyptians in Qatar aren’t only working in illegal factories, but also in unofficial restaurants. Founded in 2008 by Masri, the NGO, Dawa Egyliche Kihsi (“Egyptian Workers in Khaifa City”) gathers Egyptian workers and workers’ rights activists together. In its seven years of existence, the group has collected more than 2,000 signatures.

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