Qatar is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and, to a much lesser extent, forced prostitution. Approximately 1.2 million men and women—94 percent of the country’s workforce—from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Sudan, Thailand, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Burma, Nigeria, and China voluntarily migrate to Qatar to work as low- and semi-skilled workers, primarily in the construction, oil and gas, service, and transportation industries, as well as in domestic work, but many subsequently face forced labor. Female domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to their isolation in private residences and lack of protection under Qatari labor laws. Qatar is also a destination country for women who migrate for employment purposes and subsequently become involved in prostitution; some of these women may be runaway domestic workers forced into prostitution by traffickers who exploit their illegal status.
Many migrant workers arriving in Qatar have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries, and some recruitment agencies in labor-sending countries have lured foreign workers with false employment contracts. Qatar’s sponsorship system places a significant amount of power in the hands of employers and, therefore, debt-laden migrants who face abuse, or who have been misled, often avoid legal action because of fear of reprisal, the lengthy recourse process, or lack of knowledge of their legal rights, ultimately ensnaring them into forced labor, including debt bondage. Moreover, under the restrictive sponsorship system, employers have the unilateral power to cancel residency permits, deny workers the ability to change employers, and deny them permission to leave the country.
Instances of delayed or nonpayment of salaries are a leading driver of forced labor, including debt bondage, in Qatar. Many migrant workers also face denial of exit permits, threats of deportation, physical or financial harm, physical, mental, and sexual abuse, hazardous working conditions, and squalid living accommodations. Moreover, according to recent studies conducted by Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute, despite laws against passport confiscation, 86 to 90 percent of expatriate workers’ passports are in their employers’ possession. International rights groups and the media also report that some migrant laborers face severe labor abuses, some of which amount to forced labor. Rights groups have also alleged that a high number of foreign laborers have died from heart failure due to harsh work in extreme heat.
The Government of Qatar does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking since the previous reporting period; therefore, Qatar is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. The government reported convicting five individuals for coerced prostitution under the penal code and four additional individuals for forced prostitution; the government also investigated four cases under the 2011 anti-trafficking law and fined 27 sponsors for withholding passports. The government demonstrated efforts to prevent human trafficking through convicting 40 individuals for visa selling, doubling the number of labor inspectors from 150 to 300, closing 14 recruitment firms, and implementing anti-trafficking awareness campaigns. It also identified some trafficking victims and provided them with shelter and other protection services and trained government officials. However, the government did not reform the restrictive sponsorship system, prosecute or convict any trafficking offenders under the 2011 anti-trafficking law, or sufficiently enforce the sponsorship law that provides sanctions for employers who withhold workers’ wages and passports. Some government officials downplayed that human trafficking exists in Qatar, drawing a distinction between labor exploitation and human trafficking.
Recommendations for Qatar:
Abolish or significantly amend provisions of Qatar’s restrictive sponsorship system; significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish traffickers, particularly for forced labor crimes, under the anti-trafficking law; fine employers who withhold workers’ wages or passports; enforce the law requiring that employees receive residence cards within one week of arrival as a means of preventing trafficking abuses, and further enforce the law criminalizing passport-withholding; institute and consistently apply formal procedures to proactively identify victims of all forms of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as those arrested for immigration violations or prostitution, and provide victims with adequate protection services; collect, disaggregate, analyze, and disseminate anti-trafficking law enforcement data; continue to provide anti-trafficking trainings to government officials; and conduct anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns.
The government made limited law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking. Qatar’s comprehensive anti-trafficking law, which was enacted in October 2011, prohibits all forms of both sex and labor trafficking and prescribes penalties of no more than seven years’ imprisonment and up to the equivalent of approximately $82,000 in fines, with penalties of no more than 15 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses committed with aggravating circumstances. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Qatar also prohibits employers’ withholding of workers’ passports under the 2009 Sponsorship Law, though the law was not rigorously enforced. During the reporting period, Qatari courts fined 27 sponsors for withholding passports and issued court orders mandating they hand over the passports to the rightful owner. The government’s primary solution for resolving labor violations was to transfer a worker’s sponsorship to a new employer with minimal effort to investigate whether the violations may have amounted to forced labor. During the reporting period, the government reported four investigations, but no prosecutions or convictions, of trafficking offenders under its anti-trafficking law. The government also reported that under the penal code, five individuals were convicted for coerced prostitution and four additional individuals were convicted for forced prostitution, compared to two ongoing prosecutions for forced and bonded labor and 19 cases referred for prosecution for forced and bonded labor and sexual exploitation in the previous reporting period. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses. The Qatar Foundation to Combat Human Trafficking (QFCHT), Qatar’s national coordinating body for anti-trafficking activities, continued to provide a number of training workshops for over 100 law enforcement officials, public prosecutors, judges, and public health professionals on the anti-trafficking law and victim identification. These workshops included trafficking victim identification training for doctors and nurses; training on the role of law enforcement in combating and investigating trafficking cases and the importance of international law enforcement cooperation; and training on the prosecution of trafficking cases. The police training institute continued to train Ministry of Interior officials on conducting trafficking investigations.
The government sustained its efforts to protect some victims of trafficking, though many victims of forced labor, including debt bondage, remained unidentified and unprotected as government officials did not proactively identify victims among vulnerable populations. The government frequently treated disputes between workers and employers as administrative issues and made minimal efforts to identify victims of forced labor among these cases. Some Qatari officials failed to recognize that severe labor abuses could amount to human trafficking. Nonetheless, the government continued to identify and provide protective services to some victims of trafficking. During the reporting period, the QFCHT distributed a manual to law enforcement, immigration authorities, and social service providers on procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking. The government continued to use its national victim referral system to coordinate victim identification and referral efforts between government authorities and non-government organizations. The referral system included the provision of safe shelter, health care, and legal assistance. The QFCHT continued to operate a trafficking shelter for women and children, which provided access to medical and psycho-social care, social services, rehabilitation and reintegration programs, repatriation assistance, and legal aid. Victims had the right to leave the shelter without supervision, and victims were able to access the shelter even if their employers had filed charges against them. The shelter also provided long-term housing during judicial proceedings, and shelter residents were able to earn an income through work at the shelter’s rehabilitation center; it also provided repatriation assistance to those wishing to return to their countries. The government reported that it referred 11 trafficking victims to the QFCHT shelter, which also housed and provided health, social, and psychological services to 62 suspected female trafficking victims in 2013. The shelter also reported assisting 1,701 individuals—some of whom were potentially vulnerable to trafficking—by offering a range of services, including legal advice, filing lawsuits, following up on cases, transferring workers’ sponsorships, obtaining workers’ exit permits, and providing workers with financial compensation.
Some unidentified victims of trafficking continued to be punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. For example, Qatari authorities regularly arrested, detained, and deported potential trafficking victims for immigration violations and running away from their employers or sponsors. Some victims occasionally languished in detention centers for up to six months because of debts allegedly owed or false charges of theft filed by their employers against them. Ministry of Interior officials reportedly interviewed all detainees in the deportation center and were required to determine whether the workers were victims of trafficking and offer them protection, although it was unclear how many victims were identified through this screening process in 2013. The costs of legal representation under these circumstances were sometimes borne by the worker, but were often waived by the government due to workers’ inability to pay. Domestic workers, who were not covered under the labor law, continued to face difficulties seeking legal redress for abuses through civil court action. For example, in practice, civil suits against an employer were difficult to win unless the employer failed to meet his or her financial obligations to the domestic worker; therefore, civil suits were rare. The government reportedly encouraged trafficking victims to testify against their traffickers by assuring victims’ safety, providing free legal counseling, and allowing victims to pursue various claims, such as financial compensation; however, the government did not report how many victims testified against their traffickers or received these benefits during the reporting period. Trafficking victims had the option to remain in the country during judicial proceedings or request an immediate exit visa; these benefits were not linked to the successful outcome of a trafficking prosecution. The government offered foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face retribution or hardship.
The government made efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. It continued to raise public awareness and implement its National Plan for Combating Human Trafficking for 2010-2015, which aimed to prevent the spread of human trafficking, provide protection for victims, and punish traffickers; however, the government did not reform its sponsorship law, which continued to contribute to forced labor in the country. The government reported spending the equivalent of approximately $10.2 million on the QFCHT’s anti-trafficking efforts; the QFCHT conducted anti-trafficking awareness campaigns through various media outlets, published trafficking awareness and workers’ rights materials for foreign workers in multiple languages, and conducted a number of anti-trafficking awareness workshops for more than 400 migrant workers in Doha’s industrial area. The government’s National Human Rights Council conducted a series of information campaigns about forced labor and distributed pamphlets to foreign workers at various industrial locations with large migrant worker populations. The QFCHT, in coordination with the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Labor and Social Affairs, participated in a committee to study the issue of visa selling and the reasons workers flee from their employers. The National Alliance to Combat Human Trafficking, comprised of government agencies and civil society representatives to collaborate on anti-trafficking efforts, met six times to discuss victim referral processes, visa selling issues, and implementation of Qatar’s national plan to combat trafficking. The quasi-governmental Qatar Foundation and Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, which was set up to organize the 2022 World Cup, both issued mandatory workers’ labor rights standards for all their construction and service delivery contracts; the standards legally bind all their contractors and subcontractors to adhere to labor standards that are stricter than Qatari labor law. These standards include a “no recruitment fee” policy at all stages in the recruitment process, hotlines for workers’ complaints, and independent auditing to ensure contractual compliance and that employees are paid on time.
The government routinely inspected and monitored recruitment companies and actively sought to punish companies that were found making fraudulent offers or imposing exorbitant fees in selling visas, which makes migrant workers particularly vulnerable to trafficking. The government convicted 40 individuals, to include Qatari nationals, for illegal visa selling, issuing one to three year prison sentences and financial penalties. The government also referred 50 companies to the public prosecutor for illegal visa selling, while the QFCHT referred 26 companies to authorities for labor law violations. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) blacklisted 2,000 companies; permanently revoked the licenses of 14 recruitment firms for violating the labor law; proposed amendments to the labor law that would impose fines for delayed or unpaid wages; advanced a draft decree that would mandate companies open bank accounts for their employees and pay them electronically; and proposed a workers’ rotation scheme, which would permit laborers to switch jobs freely after the completion of their employment contract. The MOLSA also piloted a three-tiered ranking system intended to give companies incentives to comply with the labor law and reduce workers’ vulnerabilities to abuse and exploitation; companies were evaluated on several criteria, including their history of paying workers’ salaries on time, health and safety records, and the number of workers’ complaints. Nonetheless, the government did not systematically investigate companies for the withholding of workers’ passports. Although the sponsorship law requires an employer to secure a residence card for laborers within seven days, reports indicated that this sometimes did not happen; the lack of a residence card essentially renders the worker illegal, and affects the workers’ ability to access health care or lodge complaints with authorities. The QFCHT continued to operate an anti-trafficking hotline, which received 134 calls, though it is unknown how many trafficking victims were identified through the hotline. During the reporting period, the government consolidated the QFCHT underneath a broader organizational structure, the Qatar Foundation for Social Work. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, nor did it report efforts to prevent child sex tourism of Qataris traveling abroad.