The government increased its protection efforts. Similar to the previous reporting period, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims or referring them for care, although it did report assisting 219 potential trafficking victims in its shelters, all of whom were expatriate women, and improved its institutional capacity to protect victims. During the reporting period, the government signed collaborative agreements with local civil society to assist in running the daily operations of six 20-person capacity villas specifically designated for both male and female trafficking victims and allocated a budget of 3 million Qatari riyal ($824,180). It also consulted two foreign NGOs regarding best practices and standard operating procedures for establishing and operating trafficking shelters. The government partnered with an international organization and foreign officials to organize a two-day workshop for shelter service providers designed to ensure the adequacy of protective provisions. The government-funded Aman Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center shelter continued to provide basic medical care, social services, psychological treatment, housing, rehabilitation, repatriation assistance, and reintegration for female and child victims of domestic abuse, including female workers who fled their sponsors. The shelter had a budget of 15 million Qatari riyal ($4.12 million). Victims possessed the right to leave of their own volition without supervision, although chaperones were on-call in the event security was needed. Victims were also able to access the shelter even if their employers filed charges against them. Several foreign diplomatic missions ran all-purpose shelters for their female nationals, which trafficking victims also used.
Government shelter officials did not customarily use established protocols to proactively screen vulnerable individuals for trafficking indicators. Some officials reportedly used a manual to proactively identify human trafficking victims, but law enforcement personnel and other government entities did not report proactively screening for any trafficking indicators among domestic workers, a vulnerable population typically isolated and mostly excluded from protections under labor laws. Authorities revised the 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. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL) conducted extensive interviews with workers to identify potential trafficking victims who had paid recruitment fees prior to arrival in Qatar, which numbered at more than 1,200 at the end of 2018. At the close of the current reporting period, the SCDL reimbursed roughly $20 million to laborers to cover their unlawful recruitment fees, blacklisted six employment agencies as a result of its internal auditing process, and placed 106 additional contractors on a special watch list. Although the SCDL targeted more than 16,000 workers for the recruitment fee payback initiative, it did not classify any workers specifically as trafficking victims from among this population.
Systemic hurdles continued to limit victim protection and impeded access to justice. The March 2018 Domestic Worker Law stipulated that domestic workers were required to have government-verified contracts; receive adequate employer-provided food, accommodation, medical benefits, one day off per week, limited 10-hour workdays, sick leave, return flight tickets once each year, three weeks paid vacation per year, and full end-of-service payments; guaranteed access to the new dispute resolution committees to resolve workplace grievances; and allowances to leave their employers in cases of exploitation or violation of contract terms. However, at the close of the current reporting period, enforcement and knowledge of the law remained very low, thereby leaving significant vulnerabilities to forced labor among this population and victims without care or justice.
The government regularly charged and deported victims for contravening Qatari labor and immigration laws. 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. Officials stated that absconding charges were not considered until after the resolution of labor disputes, but advocates and foreign officials in the country noted, in practice, some workers experienced difficulty in surmounting the burden of such charges. Police often detained workers without legal status for immigration violations and fleeing their employers or sponsors, including potential trafficking victims. Police sometimes detained workers for the failure of their sponsors to register employees or renew their residency documents as required by Qatari law. Authorities also charged an unreported number of potential sex trafficking victims with zina (sex outside of wedlock) and subsequently deported them. The government generally encouraged victims to testify against their traffickers by providing free legal counseling and allowing them to pursue financial compensation; it provided free legal services for 12 cases taken to court, including some potential trafficking cases, during the reporting period.
In September 2018 the Amir signed Law No.13 for 2018, which legally granted the vast majority of expatriate workers covered under the labor law the right to depart the country without employer approval during the course of an employment contract. However, employers still possessed the right to designate as critical no more than five percent of their workforce, who required permission prior to exiting the country, and Law No.13 of 2018 did not cover domestic workers and government expatriate workers. During the year, the MOI Grievance Committee evaluated and adjudicated employer refusals against workers not fully covered under Qatari labor laws or Law No.13 of 2018—domestic workers and expatriate government employees—to grant their employees exit permits. In 2018, the Grievance Committee reviewed 1,869 requests to overturn the employer refusals of an exit permit, of which the MOI approved 1,850, giving a vast number of vulnerable employees permission to leave the country. The government assisted workers who wished to prematurely terminate their contracts and transfer employers, or return to their respective countries of origin, in the event of employment malfeasance. The government reported the transference of 5,094 workers after reports of abuse or other contract violations, which is a significant decrease from the 10,485 workers transferred in 2017 and an increase from 1,784 transferred in 2016. The MOI’s Search and Follow Up and Human Rights departments coordinated with embassies to provide 11,775 return tickets to assist in the repatriation of migrant workers, including potential trafficking victims. The government reported it did not deport those who faced harms or abuse in their country of origin.