Qatar: Migrant workers in labour camps at grave risk amid COVID-19 crisis

Responding to reports that parts of Qatar’s Industrial Area in Doha - home to a large number of migrant workers’ accommodation - has been put into lockdown after hundreds of construction workers became infected with COVID-19, Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues, said:

“As the world struggles to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, migrant workers trapped in camps such as those in Qatar are at particular risk of exposure to the virus.

Labour accommodation camps are notoriously overcrowded
Steve Cockburn

“Labour accommodation camps are notoriously overcrowded, and lack in adequate water and sanitation meaning that workers are inevitably less able to protect themselves from the virus. Workers’ proximity to one another in cramped camps also does not allow for any type of social distancing. 

“The Qatari government must ensure that human rights remain central to all attempts at prevention and containment of the COVID-19 virus, and also that all people have access to health care, including preventive care and treatment for everyone affected, without discrimination.”

Amnesty International is calling on Qatar and other Gulf countries to ensure that migrant workers are not further marginalised during this crisis, and that they can access sick pay when they are unable to work because of the COVID-19 epidemic, and have access to health care.

Background

During the course of its research in Qatar, Amnesty International has visited labour camps in Doha’s Industrial Area where large groups of migrant workers were housed in very poor accommodation, sleeping in bunk-beds in over-crowded rooms, with poor sanitation and sometimes with no electricity or running water.

Since 2010, when Qatar was awarded the right to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar’s migrant worker population has rapidly expanded. Coming from some of the world’s poorest countries, and working in sectors including construction, hospitality and domestic service, migrant workers make up 95% of the country’s labour force. Amnesty International has repeatedly documented concerns about the rights of migrant workers in the Industrial Area, and Qatar’s exploitative labour system.

COVID-19 outbreak

On March 11 2020, Qatar's Ministry of Public Health announced 238 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state for expatriates who reside in one residential complex.

Eventually authorities confirmed that this residential complex is located in the Industrial Area, and that some residents were subject to quarantine measure after being tested positive to the virus. 

On March 17, the Supreme Committee for Crisis Management, announced further measures to “ensure the population remains at low risk of being affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)”. These measures include the closure of parts of the Industrial Area that starts from Street No. 1 to Street No. 32 for a period of two weeks. This period could be extended.

However, the authorities stressed that such a closure “will not affect the daily needs of the residents of this area, as coordination has been done with the concerned companies to provide the daily needs of their workers and pay their salaries on the usual dates”. Additional measures to prevent the spread of the virus will be made available to these workers. It remains unclear how these measures will be implemented, and what further steps will be taken to ensure the protection of migrant workers’ rights.

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