COVID -19 pandemic: Nepalese workers stare at an uncertain future in Qatar

According to a report by human rights group Amnesty International, Qatar detained and expelled about 300 migrant workers in March 2020, after they were taken away for coronavirus testing.  

The detainment and expulsion of Nepali migrant workers from Qatar raise a grim issue about labour rights and their uncertain future.

Qatar countering those allegations by Amnesty said that migrant workers were deported as they were engaged in “illegal and illicit” activities. The authorities detained Nepali workers in camps, from Industrial area, Barwa City, and Labour City, while “testing” them for Covid-19.

During the medical check-up, Qatari officials collected biometric information from migrant workers. The workers were whisked away to crammed detention camps, without proper food or other basic amenities.

Doha’s Industrial area has been in the spotlight for overcrowded and dingy labourer camps. The city hosts thousands of migrant labourers from South Asian and other countries. They are building infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World cup, which the island nation is hosting.

Coronavirus can spread quickly in such crowded habitation. Nepali labourers have complained that employers are not following social distancing norms in camps, offices, and construction sites. About 480 Nepalis living in these squalid hubs have contracted corona, and at least 2,000 of them have been quarantined in March.

There are about 400,000 Nepali workers in Qatar and their future in the country is looking uncertain for the following reasons –

  • Firstly, many labourers have been laid off due to the shutting of businesses during the lockdown period.
  • Secondly, they might face expulsion from Qatar, when laid off. Travel ban by Qatar and freeze on labour permits by the Nepal government will make things difficult for workers who want to leave Qatar or get into the country. Nepal has imposed a similar ban till April 30 and is not allowing in its nationals. 
  • Thirdly, Nepal, which is a remittance-dependent country, might find it challenging to engage them with suitable economic opportunities.  
  • Fourthly, Nepali workers will find it difficult to get absorbed in other Gulf countries or any other countries as corona-lockdown is likely to impact most of the economies adversely.

Qatar has the highest of COVID cases among Arab countries. The government must ensure primary healthcare and better living conditions for labourers. It must also enforce that workers are paid a salary and sick pay during the lockdown.

The government needs to remain affirmative about labour laws reforms as it had undertaken over the past few years.   

Today at a pre-budget discussion Nepalese legislators in Kathmandu have raised the issue of job creation as thousands of labourers working in Qatar and other countries fear job loss.

Challenge for the Nepali government would be to repatriate thousands of documented and undocumented workers, who are demanding to return home, due to lack of proper housing, food and shelter in the resident countries like Qatar.

Related News: https://www.theworkersrights.com/labour-rights/2020/05/09/qatar-marginalise-migrant-population-even-amidst-corona-virus/

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Aparajita Das

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