Middle East Online

  In Global, Middle East Online

Qatari government’s claims of efforts to protect foreign workers from the novel coronavirus pandemic contradict human rights’ reports and labourers’ testimonies of mistreatment and abuse in the Gulf emirate.

Qatar has detected three more coronavirus cases among workers on World Cup stadiums, organisers said Thursday, bringing the number of infections among those involved in 2022 tournament construction to eight.

The Gulf nation has reported seven deaths from the COVID-19 disease and 4,103 cases in total, announcing the first infections in stadium workers on Wednesday.

Building work for the stadiums and infrastructure to stage the tournament has continued through the crisis even as non-essential retail has been halted and mosques, parks and restaurants have closed.

Observers say that the number of infected people may be much higher than what Qatari authorities have reported, given that a large number of workers do not report their illness, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when COVID-19 symptoms were still unclear, for fear of being dismissed and deported.

Qatar has a long been accused of migrant worker abuse and exploitation, which has sparked widespread international condemnation from civil society and the media in recent years.

“Many migrants are worried they will be deported if they test positive for COVID-19, so there is a fear that they will not report symptoms or go get tested, feeling compelled to work with the virus and imperiling their own health and that of others,” Elizabeth Frantz, a division director of the Open Society Foundations’ International Migration Initiative, told Foreign Policy on April 8.

Scores of migrant workers fear for their lives amid high risks of contamination due to the lack of social distancing measures in crowded accommodations, on constructions sites and crammed buses.

The migrant workers’ cramped living quarters and lack of access to health care, proper sanitation, and nutritious food imperils an already highly vulnerable group of people, reported Foreign Policy.

New York Times journalist Ben Hubbard said that Qatar has locked down tens of thousands of migrant workers in a crowded neighbourhood, raising fears it will become a coronavirus hotbed.

Qatari government said that the protection of workers, especially those living in the quarantine area, was central to the response following international media’s allegations.

But workers portrayed a different picture.

“The situation here is serious. I have been frequently speaking with workers who are in lockdown areas. Employers aren’t allowing people out to buy food, and companies are not providing food. We don’t have any rights to ask for support,” a Nepali migrant worker in Doha told Foreign Policy.

“There’s a high risk of transmission among workers. We don’t know whether people will get paid or not. We do not know whether we will be asked to leave the country or not. People do not have access to food,” Narendra said.

Human rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday that Qatar detained dozens of migrant workers and expelled them last month after telling them they were being taken to be tested for the COVID-19 virus. Source