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FIFA 2022: The Rich Gamble with Money, The Poor Gamble with Their Lives

The winner to organise the 2022 FIFA World Cup is Qatar” This single statement made by the former president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, decided the fate of more than 6500 Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Nepali and African citizens.

To understand the events that occurred post 2010, we need the answers to a few questions: How did Qatar handle such a huge influx of migrant workers? Are there any laws protecting migrant labourers? How many boundaries did Qatar push or cross when it came to cutting costs? What is the kafala system?

The Background

Home to 3 million people, Qatar is a Persian gulf emirate and is one of the world’s richest nations due to its oil reserves. Being a citizen of Qatar guarantees you with tax-free income, free health care, free education, housing support, high-paying government jobs and more however, what's truly intriguing about Qatar is that out of those 3 million people that reside there, 2 million are migrant workers and are usually paid the minimum wage of around 270 euros a month.

For the FIFA World cup, eight stadiums held 64 matches from 20th November to 18th December out of which Qatar built seven of them from scratch in a span of just 12 years. The legendary finale that saw Lionel Messi place his hands on the trophy was held at the Lusail stadium with a capacity of 80,000 people. The lights, the aura and the sound effects at the closing ceremony was to some the most beautiful thing they had ever witnessed; but, while most fans sat there thinking about how all their money was worth spending, the Qatari government was making unfathomable amount of profits on the backs of those they never paid fairly. A Form of Modern Slavery The kafala system has been prevalent in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, Jordan, and Lebanon. Foreign labour works under kafeel their employer and the relationship between them is defined by this system. This sponsorship is built on the principle of maximisation of profits so naturally fair wage and basic human rights tend to get sidelined. On paper Bahrain and Qatar may have abolished this system however elimination of certain terms does not eliminate the practice that coined those terms in the first place. Does Qatar have laws for these migrants? Yes. Are these laws enforced stringently? No. For example, in the months declared to be the hottest of the year, the law states that no person should work outside in the middle of the day but where there is no plaintiff, there is no judge. These migrant labourers are at the mercy of their sponsors who are usually their employers, naturally their desire makes them turn a blind eye to the health of the labour under them. Some employers even confiscate the passports of their employees. Some employers, fully aware of the language and knowledge barrier will have the contracts drawn up in Arabic to trick these labourers. If a worker wants to leave the country or change his job then he needs the permission of their sponsor to do so.

With the hope of living a better life, these workers take off from their homes leaving everything behind but the true horror strikes when they land. Their housing is isolated from urban areas on account of safety- The Law No.(22) of 2019, which prohibits workers’ camps within family residential areas, this is to ensure the safety of women, there are a few exceptions to this law for example barbers, driver, servants, etc. ultimately the law is concentrated on anybody who looks like a poor brown/black man. Six to seven labourers are given a small apartment to stay in where the sleeping, cooking and washing all happens in the same place. Twelve-hour shifts are quite common and if you add the time it takes just to commute to their workplace, it sums up to approximately fifteen hours a day. Not an isolated incident Bangladesh: Jamal is the owner of a small shop in Bangladesh, the money he makes is just enough for him to keep the food coming on the table. In the year 2017, just to send his younger brother Sujan to Qatar, Jamal had to borrow money from his relatives and also take out a loan from the bank to pay the fees of the hiring agency adding up to thousands of dollars. These hiring agencies at the time of signing of the contract promise a good wage and a decent accommodation, an offer tempting enough to make young men say yes to them. Sujan was the youngest in his family. His mother used to talk to him on the phone everyday. Sujan would often complain about the conditions that he was working in, the heat, the gruelling work and the fact that he was barely receiving any wage for his work- he said that he would often have to wait months before he was paid anything. To this day Jamal doesn’t know why or how his brother Sujan died two years ago. All he was told was that in the early hours of 23rd september 2020, Sujan’s teeth started hurting and he later died of a heart attack. His death certificate stated “Acute heart attack due to natural causes”, you will find this written on thousands of other death certificates of migrant workers. Under section 60 of Qatar’s labour laws it states that the employer shall also pay compensation for the death of the worker, if the death was caused by the job. Employers have found a way around this by stating the reason for death to be of natural causes. Nepali migrant worker: “When I went to Lusail (a city in Qatar), there was nothing. There was not even a single building. Now there are towers everywhere. We built those towers. In the heat, we worked out of compulsion with our face covers. We were drenched in sweat. We poured water (sweat) from our shoes. Even in that what we worked hard. My son did not recognise me when I first came from Qatar (To Nepal). My son’s aim is to play football, so I went to watch him play for a little bit. I met my son only five times in the 14 years I was away.I used to cry and feel bad that I had to stay away from children for work.” Widow of Bangladeshi migrant worker: “My husband used to work as a driver. He used to come for two months every two years. This time, only his dead body came, four years after he had last visited Nepal.” Even when a migrant worker decided to speak against the regime, it could be seen as a threat which is why no news outlet will ever reveal the true name, appearance, or voice of the victims who have managed to come out and are voicing their struggle. The Uprising Trade union official Detmar Schaefers, a German official who has been travelling to Qatar for the past 9 years to assess migrant worker conditions in the Emirate says that huge international pressure has resulted in genuine reforms on official FIFA building sites nevertheless more needs to be done to address the less visible deficits. At a meeting in Germany with the German Football Association, the Qatari ambassador even said that “We are claiming we are not perfect but it's a journey that we will write don’t expect Qatar in five or six years just for the sake of the noise and the argument let's be realistic and calm down rather than just jump into the wave so that we just talk about human rights we all respect it but we need to be you know modest about it”, this statement is quite the irony considering how “modesty” is the last word that comes to mind when thinking of Qatar.

Malcolm Bidali, a citizen of Kenya, worked in Qatar as a guard for three years. When he shared experiences of his ill-treatment on social media, he was detained in jail in Doha for a month. He founded the organisation Migrant Defenders in Nairobi and through the means of advocacy, he strives to make people aware of their basic human rights and of how these middle-eastern countries have been blatantly exploiting the less fortunate. The dark side of this world cup was revealed by western media which in itself is quite hypocritical considering they too tend to exploit underprivileged brown/black migrant labour. Their actions seem to indicate their dislike towards a middle-eastern country hosting the world cup however questioning the intention of these investigations in no way, shape or form takes the limelight away from the horrifying stories of people who look like us, you and me. What is done is done. The only thing that the Qatar’s government can do now is provide compensation to these poor suffering families and tell them exactly how their sons died.

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