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Middle East

Migrant workers 'going hungry' in Qatar

Amnesty International urges officials to intervene to help labourers collect up to a year's worth of overdue salaries.

Last updated: 18 Dec 2013 09:14
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Qatari officials have pledged to investigate alleged labour rights abuses [Reuters]

Dozens of migrant workers in Qatar are running low on food after a pay dispute with their employer, according to London-based rights group Amnesty International.

More than 80 labourers, mostly from Nepal, are waiting for up to a year's worth of pay after having worked on a prominent skyscraper in the capital, Doha, a statement by the group said on Wednesday.

Qatar has said it will review working conditions for labourers after questions were raised about safety on construction sites, and allegations of human rights abuses.

"It is now one month since we visited these men and found them living in desperate conditions. But their ordeal has not ended," said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.
 
"They have not been paid for nearly a year and can't even buy food to sustain themselves on a day-to-day basis. They also can't afford to send money back home to their families or to pay off debts."

Wednesday, December 18, marks both Qatar's National Day - an event met with lavish parades, decorated cars and spectacular firework displays - and International Migrants' Day.

"The Qatari government must step in now and end this crisis," said Shetty.

"The men have told us they simply want to collect the unpaid wages they are owed and to leave the country. The Ministries of Labour and Interior must deliver that as soon as possible. Doing so will signal that the government really means what it says about protecting workers’ rights," Shetty added.

Doha taking initiatives

In October, the Ministry of Labour announced it had commissioned international law firm DLA Piper to investigate claims of forced labour. And after an Amnesty report was released in November, Qatar's state cabinet appointed a committee to examine the country's restrictive worker sponsorship system.

Because of this system, known as kefala, the workers are tied to their company, Lee Trading and Contracting (LTC), and are not allowed to earn money by working elsewhere.

Due to the National Day holiday, neither ministry officials nor the LTC were not immediately available for comment, according to AFP news agency. 
 
In late November, Doha residents concerned about the workers’ situation collected donations and sent a delivery of food to the workers' home in one of Doha's labour camps.
 
“It is shameful to think that in one of the richest countries in the world, migrant workers are being left to go hungry. The Qatari authorities must take action immediately,” said Salil Shetty.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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