Qatar

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 2

QATAR: Tier 2

The Government of Qatar does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Qatar was upgraded to Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts during the reporting period by establishing a coordinating body to oversee and facilitate anti-trafficking initiatives and enacting a law that reforms the sponsorship system to significantly reduce vulnerability to forced labor. The Wage Protection System (WPS) now covers over two million workers and substantial progress has been made towards implementing a new electronic contracting system and new labor dispute panels designed to greatly accelerate resolution of labor cases. The government gave Cabinet approval for new legislation—still awaiting final signature—to better protect domestic workers and strengthened enforcement against passport retention. It also increased the number of prosecutions and convictions for trafficking-related offenses. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. It did not prosecute any Qatari employers or recruitment agencies for forced labor. The government often did not investigate for trafficking cases that manifest indicators such as passport retention, labor violations, and complaints of abuse, and authorities regularly arrested, detained, and deported potential trafficking victims for immigration violations or for fleeing their employers or sponsors. The government did not provide data on the number of victims it identified or assisted, and it did not hold complicit officials criminally accountable.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR QATAR

Significantly increase efforts to investigate indicators of trafficking, prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish traffickers, particularly for forced labor crimes, under the anti-trafficking law; continue to implement reforms to the sponsorship system so it does not provide excessive power to sponsors or employers in granting and maintaining the legal status of migrant workers, adopt reforms to protect migrant workers from abusive practices and working conditions that may amount to forced labor; fully implement the electronic contracting system to reduce instances of contract substitution; enact and fully implement the new domestic worker law, that conforms with international standards, and extend labor law protection to domestic workers; strengthen enforcement of the law criminalizing passport retention; ensure employers do not exploit workers using the WPS by collecting money from them before depositing their salary electronically; implement the WPS for all companies, including small and medium-sized companies, joint ventures, and foreign-owned companies; enforce the law requiring that migrant workers receive residence cards within one week of arrival; consistently apply formal procedures to identify victims of all forms of trafficking proactively among vulnerable groups, such as those arrested for immigration violations or prostitution or who flee abusive employers; provide victims comprehensive protection services; implement the mandate of the newly formed intragovernmental anti-trafficking committee; collect and report data pertaining to the number of victims identified and the services provided to them; provide anti-trafficking training to government officials, targeting the judicial sector; and continue to conduct anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns.

PROSECUTION

The government expanded anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2011 anti-trafficking law prohibits all forms of sex and labor trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment and/or up to 300,000 Qatari riyal ($82,390) in fines; heads of recruiting agencies found guilty of trafficking face up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 Qatari riyal ($54,930). These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. By allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, the prescribed punishment is not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Under the 2015 sponsorship reform law, the government criminalizes the confiscation of workers’ passports, punishable by a maximum fine of 25,000 Qatari riyal ($6,870).

During the reporting period, the government reported investigating 93 potential trafficking cases, compared to 24 investigated in 2015, some of which likely involved other crimes often conflated with trafficking, including smuggling. The government prosecuted and convicted one suspected trafficker under the 2011 anti-trafficking law. In addition, the government achieved 28 trafficking-related convictions, including facilitating prostitution and unscrupulous employment practices. In 2016, officials did not prosecute any Qatari employers or recruitment agencies for forced labor under the anti-trafficking law, as compared to its conviction of two private companies in 2015. Under various sections of the labor code, the Public Prosecutor’s Office convicted up to 19 companies for labor law contraventions, including failure to comply with work hour limitations, grant a mandatory rest day, or pay overtime. Labor courts handed down 2,039 judgments in 2016, including 1,201 cases of forced payments of denied or delayed wages and benefits, in addition to fines, which reached as high as 100,000 Qatari riyal ($27,460), according to news reports. During the reporting period, a government-run media source reported that Qatar’s higher criminal court upheld a 2015 trafficking conviction of a non-Qatari national; however, for another foreigner, it reduced a sentence for involuntary manslaughter of a domestic worker and involvement in human trafficking crimes from eight years imprisonment and a fine of 350,000 Qatari riyal ($96,130) to one year and a 100,000 Qatari riyal ($27,460) fine. The government increased enforcement of its law prohibiting passport retention by prosecuting 48 cases and administering fines to the perpetrators of passport retention, some of which likely occurred outside of the current reporting year; however, it did not investigate these and other potential trafficking indicators for trafficking crimes related to these cases.

Qatari labor protections remained biased in favor of the employer. Several government agencies did not categorize forced labor or exploitation of domestic workers as human trafficking, but rather as assault, immigration, or labor law violations. The government’s primary solution for resolving labor violations continued to be a transfer of employer sponsorship, mandated back payment of wages and fines, and blacklisting of companies without efforts to investigate whether the violations constituted forced labor. The government did not report investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials for complicity in human trafficking offenses. Some Qatari diplomats were implicated in alleged forced labor of their domestic workers. In October 2016, two domestic workers filed a civil suit against a former Qatari diplomat posted in the United States alleging the official withheld their wages, forced them to work excessive hours, and threatened deportation and blacklisting, among other accusations indicative of forced labor; a ruling on the case remained pending at the close of the reporting period. In early 2017, a Qatari official formerly posted to the United States as a diplomat agreed to a confidential settlement after a federal court in Virginia issued a default judgment in a civil suit in May 2014 in the amount of nearly $500,000 for claims the official subjected a domestic worker to forced labor. After the parties agreed to the settlement, the court set aside the default judgment. In another case, a Qatari military official and his spouse were indicted by a federal court in Texas and pled guilty to visa fraud related to the alleged forced labor of two domestic workers they had employed when in the United States on temporary duty. As part of their February 2016 sentence, the couple was ordered to pay the workers restitution in the amount of $120,000, which they did. Soon thereafter the couple departed the United States. The government of Qatar did not report taking any action to hold the official accountable. During the year, the government coordinated with several international organizations and civil society stakeholders to improve training programs for federal employees. The police training institute of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) conducted courses and workshops for an unknown number of officers and staff who investigate and work on trafficking cases. Judges, inspectors, and police officers continued participation in a multi-year training program with an international organization on combating trafficking.

PROTECTION

The government did not report the number of trafficking victims it identified, referred for care, or assisted during the reporting period, and many victims of forced labor likely remained unidentified and unprotected. The Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center shelter, to which the government funded approximately 90 million Qatari riyal ($24.7 million), provided basic medical care and housing for female workers who fled their sponsors as well as female and child victims of violence; shelter officials did not use established protocols to proactively screen vulnerable individuals for trafficking indicators. Officials and law enforcement personnel did not report proactively screening for any trafficking indicators among domestic workers, a vulnerable population typically isolated and excluded from protections under labor laws. During the reporting period, the Cabinet approved legislation governing the employment of domestic workers. While the text is not public, the government reported it would enroll domestic workers in the WPS and require adequate employer-provided food and accommodation, medical benefits, one day off per week, limited working hours, guaranteed overtime pay, sick leave, full end-of-service payments, and use of the formal contract system. However, at the close of the reporting period, the legislation awaited the emir’s signature to become law. The government donated 364,000 Qatari riyal ($99,970) to an international organization’s trust fund to support trafficking victims. The government continued to use its national victim referral system to coordinate victim identification and referral efforts between government authorities and NGOs. The referral system included the provision of shelter, health care, and legal assistance to trafficking victims. During the reporting period, victims were able to access the shelter even if their employers filed charges against them and maintained the right to leave the shelter without supervision.

Systemic hurdles limited victim protection and access to justice. In 2016, there were no reports of trafficking victims being prosecuted for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, authorities arrested, detained, and deported potential trafficking victims for immigration violations and fleeing their employers or sponsors. For four months in 2016, the government offered an amnesty period during which workers facing charges in Qatar could apply for repatriation without penalty—13,579 workers utilized this opportunity. The government occasionally held some victims in detention centers due to debts allegedly owed or false charges of theft filed by their employers. The government encouraged victims to testify against their traffickers by providing free legal counseling and allowing them to pursue financial compensation; it was unclear how many victims testified or received these benefits during the reporting period. The Qatari legal system lacked adequate privacy laws to protect victims against potential retribution and often did not provide adequate assistance or protection for victims during legal proceedings. Victims who lodged complaints were sometimes the subject of spurious counter-charges by their respective employers that resulted in administrative deportation proceedings. While more than 4,000 victims filed official complaints against their employers for restitution of wages during the year, domestic workers—who were not covered under the labor law—continued to face difficulties seeking legal redress for abuses through civil court action. In practice, victims were only able to change employers or return to their respective countries of origin with sponsor permission at the end of their contract, or with assistance from the MOI or Ministry of Labor. The government is required to assist workers who wish to prematurely terminate their contracts and transfer employers in the event of employment malfeasance. The government reported the transference of 1,784 workers over the objections of their employers to new companies, compared to 1,762 in 2015. MOI’s Search and Follow Up and Human Rights departments coordinated with embassies to assist in the repatriation of migrant workers, including an unknown number of domestic workers. MOI reported providing 7,506 complimentary repatriation tickets in 2016, compared to 10,086 tickets in 2015. The government reported it did not deport those who faced retaliation or retribution in their country of origin.

PREVENTION

The government increased its efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. The government formally enacted Law No. 21 of 2015 Regulating the Entry, Exit, and Residence of Foreigners and developed a new employer contract system applicable to all expatriate workers in Qatar, including domestic workers. The new e-contract system could reduce vulnerabilities to forced labor if fully implemented. Workers still require exit permits to depart the country. In accordance with Law No. 21, the government established a formal “Grievance Committee” that reviews within 72 hours rejected requests for exit permits to depart the country. In operation since December 2016, this committee addressed 498 denied exit permits, of which it upheld five—all of which involved unresolved legal issues. Although the government offers complimentary legal and translation assistance during court proceedings, it did not report how many workers who submitted a grievance received such services. Also in accordance with the law, the government initiated the process of converting all contracts into duplicative e-contracts in order for one contract to be on file in Qatar and the other in the respective source country. This new contract system includes standardized language, including in local languages of major labor-sending countries, and online instructional guidance in Arabic and English. In addition, under the new law employees are not required to have a “no objection certificate” to seek alternate employers upon conclusion of their contracts, although workers are still required to have this certificate to change jobs in the midst of an existing contract, which can be up to five years. Migrant workers are no longer required to leave the country for two years before seeking new employment in Qatar, thereby reducing the imperative for laborers seeking long-term employment in Qatar to reengage in potentially exploitative recruitment relationships. Since implementation of Law No. 21, the government has transferred approximately 5,200 workers to new employers. Although the sponsorship law requires an employer to secure a residence card for laborers within seven days, reports indicated this sometimes did not happen; the lack of a residence card essentially restricts their ability to access health care or lodge complaints with authorities. In advance of the December 2016 launch of Law 21 of 2015, officials conducted at least five lectures and town hall meetings reaching an unknown number of foreign diplomats, community leaders, business executives, and employers, and produced media publications to explain the new reforms and how workers could use these legal changes to more easily change employers or leave the country.

For most of the reporting period, the government did not appoint a lead for anti-trafficking efforts after the previous oversight body was dissolved. Nonetheless, the government continued to pursue various goals established in the 2016 written plan to combat trafficking. A new anti-trafficking committee, which includes representatives of both government offices and NGOs, was approved in October 2016 and members met unofficially to draft a new strategy for 2017-2022, which prioritizes prevention, protection, judicial pursuits, and regional and international cooperation. The government allocated approximately 7.2 million Qatari riyal ($1.97 million) for the development and implementation of the draft strategy. The government-funded Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center promoted awareness campaigns on various forms of abuse, including trafficking, and outlined where to receive help; these campaigns targeted women, domestic workers, and exploitative employers. In addition, the government sought to raise awareness among the local population through a new slavery exhibit as part of a museum consortium in Doha that showcased information on human trafficking trends in Qatar. The government published manuals for expatriates in Arabic, English, and several source country languages on proactive victim identification, domestic worker rights, and ways to combat trafficking in Qatar. It continued to publish and disseminate “worker rights” pamphlets in English, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, and Tagalog that contained relevant articles from the labor and sponsorship laws, in addition to the number for the complaint hotline, which received more than 4,200 calls during the year. The quasi-government Qatar Foundation and the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee co-published mandatory standards documents, which included workers’ rights and contractual incentives for contractors to adhere to Qatari labor laws.

In 2016, the government employed 397 labor inspectors, up from 350 in 2015, who conducted more than 44,500 labor inspections and filed 1,142 labor violation reports, though the government did not provide an exact figure on the total amount of fines placed on companies or how many fines it administered, and many of the inspections fell outside of the reporting period. The government canceled the licenses of 93 recruitment agencies, issued 78 warnings, wrote seven infringement reports, and revoked the licenses of 24 companies, compared to 15 in 2015, that MOI’s routine inspection and monitoring found to be noncompliant with the labor law; however, it did not report if it referred any companies, or their owners or staff, for further prosecution or whether it achieved any convictions for those suspected of illegal recruitment activities. Officials blacklisted more than 5,500 companies and 2,000 individuals in 2016 for unscrupulous practices, such as nonpayment of workers’ wages, exceeding the blacklisting of 2,417 companies the previous reporting period. In total, the government of Qatar took 34,662 decisions against companies for violations of either the labor law or the WPS. The government continued its rollout of the WPS, which requires employers to pay workers electronically and increases penalties for violating the labor code. In 2016, the system included bank accounts for over two million migrant workers and allowed for the tracking of unpaid wages; labor sending embassies reported a decline in unpaid or delayed wage cases by nearly 60 percent. The WPS detected more than 600 companies for labor violations; however, it remained unclear whether the system flagged any potential trafficking cases for criminal investigation. Allegations of employees forced to pay employers a certain amount of money before having their wages transferred electronically continued to exist, though improved access to ATMs, online banking mechanisms, and awareness campaigns reduced reported instances of this potential loophole in the system. The government continued to address recruitment issues and worker rights through 36 bilateral agreements and five MOUs with labor-sending countries. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not regularly provide anti-trafficking training for its international peacekeepers or diplomatic personnel.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, Qatar is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and, to a much lesser extent, forced prostitution. Men and women from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Togo, and China voluntarily migrate to Qatar as unskilled laborers and domestic workers, often paying illegal and exorbitant fees to unscrupulous recruiters in the labor-sending countries, thereby increasing their vulnerability to debt bondage. Some workers subsequently face conditions indicative of involuntary servitude, to include restricted movement, passport confiscation, exit permit retention, and threats of deportation or abuse. Over 90 percent of the country’s workforce is comprised of men and women from South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, who work primarily in construction, oil and gas, the service industry, transportation, and domestic work sectors; some are subjected to forced labor. Female domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, because they are not protected under Qatari labor laws and because officials lack authority to enter private residences. Some foreign women in prostitution, including some former domestic workers, are subjected to sex trafficking in Qatar.

Qatar’s low-skilled migrant workers continue to comprise the largest group at risk of trafficking. Many migrant workers arriving in Qatar pay exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries, and some recruitment agencies in labor-sending countries lure foreign workers with fraudulent employment contracts. Individuals in Qatar sell visas to migrants, enabling migrant workers to work illegally and without legal recourse against their respective sponsors; the sale of such visas may also lead to debt bondage. Businesses and individuals in Qatar reportedly falsely promise migrants employment opportunities.

Qatar’s sponsorship system places significant power in the hands of employers, who have unilateral power to cancel residence permits, prevent workers from changing employers, and deny permission to leave the country. Debt-laden migrants who face abuse or are misled often avoid reporting their exploitation out of fear of reprisal or deportation, the protracted recourse process, or lack of knowledge of their legal rights, making them more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage. Instances of delayed or unpaid salaries are a leading driver of forced labor in Qatar. Many migrant workers often live in confined, unsanitary conditions, and many complain of excessive working hours and hazardous working conditions; threats of deportation and physical or financial harm; and physical, mental, or sexual abuse. According to a 2014 study by Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute, 76 percent of expatriate workers’ passports were in their employers’ possession, despite laws against passport confiscation.