The Daily Mirror today returned to its radical, campaigning best, with a front-page lead report by Kevin McGuire on slave labour in Qatar. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time a British tabloid has raised the issue of the murderous conditions of migrant workers in Qatar as the Emirate prepares for the 2022 World Cup (though Nick Cohen has written some excellent pieces for the Observer).
The Mirror‘s report:
Qatar is accused of working 1,200 people to death in its £39billion building bonanza for the 2022 World Cup.
An investigation by the Mirror into the oil-rich Emirate revealed horrific and deadly exploitation of migrant workers, who are forced to live in squalor, drink salt water and get paid just 57p an hour.
Campaigners fear the death toll could reach 4,000 before the Finals kick off. One worker told us: “We are treated like slaves and our deaths are cheap.”
FIFA faces renewed pressure to show Qatar a World Cup red card following the exposure of mass deaths and vile exploitation of construction workers in the region.
A team of British trade union leaders and MPs warned that the 2022 tournament is being built “on the blood and misery of an army of slave labour”, after uncovering appalling abuse during a visit to the Gulf monarchy.
Qatar is accused of working 1,200 migrants to death since being awarded the World Cup in 2010 and campaigners have insisted the shocking death toll could reach 4,000 before a ball is even kicked in the Finals.
On a mission organised by Geneva-based Building and Woodworkers’ International, a global federation of construction unions, I witnessed and heard distressing evidence of systematic mistreatment on an industrial scale. Sneaking into squalid labour camp slums under the cover of darkness, frightened workers lured to Qatar with false promises of high salaries complained of persecution.
One Nepalese carpenter, paid the equivalent of just 95p an hour, said: “We’re treated like slaves. They don’t see us as human and our deaths are cheap. They have our passports so we cannot go home. We are trapped.”
Huge natural gas deposits fuel a £39billion building bonanza with the World Cup set to be the crowning glory of the desert nation’s development dash.
But the award of the tournament is wreathed in accusations of corruption and fears footballers will collapse in temperatures hitting as high as 50C in the summer. This led to calls that the Finals should be moved to winter but when one FIFA official hinted at this , the footballing body moved quickly to quash the rumour.
For the neglected migrant workers, the scorching heat is just one of the crippling conditions they battle day in day out. Their pleas for midday breaks away from the blazing sun are widely ignored.
The Mirror investigation uncovered poor safety conditions resulting in high death rates. Workers, from countries like India and Nepal, are paid as little as 57p an hour – sometimes these wages go unpaid for months. They are physically beaten and have their passports confiscated by gangmasters.
In one camp in downtown Doha, the capital, I saw nine workers crammed into a tiny, cockroach-infested room. Just a few miles away I later watched the elite of Qatar – the richest country per head on earth – pull up outside a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Ferraris and Rolls-Royces.
In the sprawling Al Khor labour camp about 35 miles North of Doha the workers, who asked not to be named, said they were herded onto buses for two-hour journeys to work.
In what is known as China Camp, the migrants – who have to use disgusting communal toilets – said they were also forced to drink salty water.
Steve Murphy, general secretary of Britain’s Ucatt construction union, told me: “I could cry for these lads. I’ll never forget what I saw in the labour camps.
“The RSPCA would be on to you if you kept dogs in the conditions these workers are forced to endure. They live in squalor and risk being killed or maimed at work. This slaughter will continue unless conditions improve and they are allowed freedom of association.”
Under the feudal kafala system of control operated in Qatar the imported 1.2 million migrant workers are effectively bonded labour, unable to leave jobs or the Emirate without permission of employers. Trade unions are banned while laws are routinely flouted.
And as work begins on the 12 World Cup stadiums, between 500,000 and one million more migrants could be flown into the region. The Qataris are sensitive to international criticism and during a meeting with the BWI delegation, the head of the Qatari committee overseeing the World Cup hit back at criticism.
I was told Hassan Abdullah Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, informed the group: “We don’t want people to think we’re an evil country because we’re not.”
The high-ranking official, who lived in Scunthorpe and was educated at Sheffield university, rejected calls for migrant workers to join trade unions.
Fresh proposals on improving conditions are due soon but major doubts persist about whether they will be enforced. Ucatt chair Neil Vernon was taken to a model camp housing 105 migrants working on the Al Wakrah stadium. With two to a room and cafeterias, he said: “It couldn’t be more different from the disgusting labour camps I saw. If every worker was accommodated like this, there wouldn’t be a problem.”
FIFA initially tried to wash its hands of abuse in Qatar but President Sepp Blatter is growing increasingly nervous. Next month he is sending lawyer Dr Theo Zwanzieger there as the clamour grows for the 2022 World Cup be held in another country.
Two Labour MPs on the mission will raise the mistreatment in Parliament. Chris Williamson, MP for Derby North and a former bricklayer, declared: “I was sickened by what I saw. FIFA is under a moral obligation to press the Qatari authorities to end the exploitation.”
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn added: “How could you enjoy watching a game of football when you know the tournament was built on the blood and misery of an army of slave labour?”
Qatar is the richest country in the world thanks to oil and gas. With a population of 2.1 million, it has an average income of £60,612 per person, compared with £21,970 in the UK.
But more than 90% of workers are low-paid immigrants, nearly half from Nepal. Most riches are pocketed by a ruling elite, headed by the Emir.
Qatar’s reserves of oil and natural gas are world’s third biggest and account for more than 70% of government revenue. The state invests around the globe and in London it owns Harrods and The Shard.
It is illegal to criticise the Emir, who rules as an absolute monarch. He funds rebel forces in Syria while the Qatari airforce flew with the RAF to help topple Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.
The Nepalese labour attache in Doha has revealed how the Qatari elite brush aside the appalling death figures.
Indra Dev Pandev, whose poor Himalayan nation provides a large chunk of the labour force, said that last year a total of 195 Nepalese workers died in the Gulf state, bringing the total close to 400 over two years.
Of that 195, a dozen were suicides, 22 were classed as dying on work sites and 38 from road accidents. The main group, 123, were “heart attacks”, very unlikely for such young men.
Mr Pandev says there are no postmortems and when a worker is judged to have died from natural causes, no compensation is paid. They are literally worked to death and their families left penniless.
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