Qatar is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and, to a lesser extent, forced prostitution. Men and women from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Sudan, Thailand, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Burma, Nigeria, and China voluntarily migrate to Qatar as low-skilled laborers and domestic servants, but many subsequently face involuntary servitude. According to Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute, a November 2012 study found that 86 percent of expatriate workers surrendered their passports to employers. There are also reports of widespread non payment of wages. Female domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to their isolation in private residences and lack of protection under Qatari labor laws. Many migrant workers arriving for work in Qatar have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries—a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Qatar. Moreover, Qatar’s sponsorship system binds foreign workers to their designated employers, placing a significant amount of power in the hands of employers; because of this, when workers face abuse, they often avoid legal action because of the lengthy recourse process, fear of reprisal, or lack of knowledge of their legal rights. Qatar is also a destination for women who migrate for legitimate purposes and subsequently become involved in prostitution, but the extent to which these women are subjected to forced prostitution is unknown. Some of these women may be runaway domestic workers who have fallen prey to forced prostitution by individuals who exploit their illegal status.
The Government of Qatar does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to demonstrate efforts to address human trafficking, particularly through prosecuting trafficking offenders, proactively identifying trafficking victims, and implementing awareness campaigns. The government improved its protection measures by training officials on victim identification procedures and continued to implement a national referral mechanism. However, officials continued to punish some victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking and only assisted victims who lodged official complaints prior to being arrested by authorities. The government continued to operate a shelter for trafficking victims, which provided a variety of protection services. Nonetheless, the government did not demonstrate efforts to abolish the sponsorship system, nor did it strictly enforce a legal provision that criminalizes withholding of passports.
Recommendations for Qatar: Implement anti-trafficking legislation by increasing efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenses under the law; collect, disaggregate, analyze, and disseminate counter-trafficking law enforcement data; institute and consistently apply formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as those arrested for immigration violations or prostitution; enforce the criminalization of passport-withholding, and mandate employees receive residence cards within one week as a means of preventing trafficking abuses; abolish or significantly amend provisions of Qatar’s sponsorship law to prevent the forced labor of migrant workers, particularly as demand for migrant workers grows in association with construction for the 2022 FIFA World Cup; continue to train government officials on the anti-trafficking law and conduct anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns; and punish employers who withhold workers’ wages.
The Government of Qatar made limited law enforcement efforts to combat its human trafficking problem over the year. Qatar’s comprehensive anti-trafficking law, Law No. 15, which was enacted in October 2011, prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties of no more than seven years’ imprisonment and up to the equivalent of $82,000 in fines, with prescribed penalties of no more than 15 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses committed with aggravating circumstances. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Qatar also prohibits employers’ withholding of workers’ passports under the 2009 Sponsorship Law, though the law was not rigorously enforced. During the reporting period, the government reported two prosecutions for forced labor under Article 322 of the penal code, which addresses forced and bonded labor; both cases were pending at the end of the reporting period. The Qatar Foundation to Combat Human Trafficking (QFCHT), Qatar’s national coordinating body for anti-trafficking activities, also referred 19 suspected trafficking cases for prosecution, eight of which involved the rape of domestic workers; however, it was unclear how many of these cases constituted human trafficking offenses. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses. During the reporting period, QFCHT funded and conducted eight anti-trafficking trainings for law enforcement and judicial personnel; the Police Training Institute continued to train Ministry of Interior officials on trafficking investigations.
The government made sustained progress in protecting victims of trafficking during the reporting period through implementation of systematic procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as foreign workers, and the government continued to provide protective services to victims. The QFCHT continued to distribute a manual to law enforcement, immigration authorities, and social service providers on procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking. The QFCHT continued to operate a trafficking shelter for women and children, which provided access to medical and psycho-social care, social services, rehabilitation and reintegration programs, repatriation assistance, and legal aid. Victims had the right to leave the shelter without supervision, and victims were able to access the shelter even if their employers had filed charges against them. The shelter also provided long-term housing during judicial proceedings, and shelter residents were able to earn an income through work at the shelter’s rehabilitation center. The shelter assisted 40 female suspected trafficking victims, some of whom were victims of forced labor, during the reporting period. The government continued to use its national victim referral system to coordinate victim identification and referral efforts between government authorities and non-government organizations. Government officials, including police, public prosecutors, and other government ministry officials, reportedly referred some trafficking victims to the shelter in this reporting period.
While some officials encouraged victims to participate in the prosecution of trafficking offenders, other officials did not equate involuntary labor exploitation with human trafficking. Under Qatar’s sponsorship law, employers, also known as sponsors, had the unilateral power to cancel workers’ residency permits, deny workers’ ability to change employers, report a worker as a runaway to police authorities, and deny workers permission to leave the country. As a result, some workers were afraid to report abuses or assert their rights for fear of reprisal. Victims of trafficking were often punished for unlawful acts they committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking; specifically, Qatari authorities regularly arrested, detained, and deported potential trafficking victims for immigration violations and running away from their employers or sponsors. Ministry of Interior officials interviewed all detainees in the deportation center and were required to determine whether the workers were victims of trafficking and offer them protection. However, some victims occasionally languished in detention centers for up to six months because of debts owed or, more rarely, employers filed false charges of theft against them. The costs of legal representation under these circumstances were borne by the worker but were often waived by the government due to inability to pay. Domestic workers, who were not covered under the provisions of the labor law, continued to face difficulties seeking legal redress for abuses through civil court action. For example, civil suits could only be filed against an employer for that employer’s failure to meet his/her financial obligations to the domestic worker; in practice, civil suits were rare but have increased in number. Trafficking victims had the option to remain in the country during judicial proceedings or request an immediate exit visa. The government and the QFCHT also transferred sponsorships and assisted in job placement for some victims who chose to remain in Qatar. The government did not offer most foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face retribution or hardship.
Qatar made significant progress in preventing trafficking in persons during the reporting period through raising public awareness of human trafficking and implementing its National Plan for Combating Human Trafficking for 2010-2015; however, the government did not reform Qatar’s sponsorship law, which contributes to forced labor in the country. The QFCHT continued to conduct anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, and it published trafficking awareness materials for foreign workers in multiple languages. The QFCHT also hosted a regional conference with 300 participants from Arab countries to discuss human trafficking trends, and the government strengthened ties with labor-sending countries to collaborate on ways to combat trafficking. In October 2012, the QFCHT launched the National Alliance to Combat Human Trafficking, which brought together civil society and government agencies to collaborate on anti-trafficking efforts. The government also established an anti-trafficking hotline in October 2012, though it was unclear how many trafficking victims were identified through the hotline. The government routinely inspected and monitored recruitment companies and actively sought to punish companies that were found making fraudulent offers or imposing exorbitant fees in selling visas. Through a series of raids conducted by the Ministries of Interior and Labor, the government blacklisted 8,000 companies for labor law violations and cancelled the registration of 15 recruitment firms in 2012. The government also reported convicting two individuals for selling forged work visas in this reporting period. The government did not, however, systematically investigate companies to prevent passport withholding. Although the sponsorship law requires an employer to secure a residence card for laborers within seven days, reports indicated that this sometimes did not happen; this restricts migrant workers’ mobility and impedes their ability to access health care or lodge complaints at the labor department. The government publicly called for adherence to Islamic principles in an effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and to prevent child sex tourism of Qataris traveling abroad.