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QATAR: Tier 2

The Government of Qatar does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Qatar remained on Tier 2. These efforts included reporting its first forced labor conviction under the anti-trafficking law and identifying more victims and referring them to care at the new trafficking shelter. The government announced and implemented reforms to its sponsorship system, including the removal of the No Objection Certificate (NOC) to allow all workers to transfer jobs at any time during their contract period. It also began to allow its Qatar Visa Centers (QVCs) in critical labor-source countries to process domestic worker visa applications to minimize contract switching for foreign workers vulnerable to trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not routinely investigate crimes such as employer passport retention, withholding of wages, labor violations, and complaints of abuse as potential trafficking crimes. Although the government had formal victim identification and referral procedures, not all officials systemically used them, which may have left trafficking victims unidentified and unable to receive protection services. Authorities also reportedly arrested, detained, and deported potential trafficking victims for immigration violations, prostitution, or fleeing their employers or sponsors, including in cases where victims have been compelled to do so.

Increase the number of trafficking investigations, especially by investigating passport retention, withholding of wages, labor violations, and complaints of abuse as potential trafficking crimes. • Expand training for law enforcement to better identify potential trafficking cases. • Increase efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses, particularly forced labor crimes, and to convict and punish traffickers under the anti-trafficking law. • Increase the capacity of the specialized trafficking units within the Public Prosecutors Office (PPO) and Ministry of Interior (MOI) and ensure the units exclusively handle cases with a trafficking nexus. • Undertake serious efforts to prevent penalization of trafficking victims by screening for trafficking indicators among those arrested for immigration violations or prostitution, or those who flee abusive employers and face counter charges and deportation. • Routinely apply and widely disseminate formal procedures to proactively identify and refer to care victims of all forms of trafficking, including Cuban medical professionals, and institute regular trainings for all officials on how to employ these procedures systematically. • Continue to implement reforms to the sponsorship system by streamlining exit and transfer procedures to mitigate the burden on workers and prohibit employers from filing absconding charges or canceling residency permits in retaliation for workers utilizing these reforms. • Develop standard operating procedures and institute trainings for officials to fully implement the 2018 domestic worker law. • Broaden implementation of the Labor Dispute Resolution Committees (LDRCs) to expedite cases pertaining to contract or employment disputes and increase the capacity of LDRCs to refer suspected trafficking cases for criminal investigative proceedings. • Provide adequate staff and resources to manage the 14 existing Qatar Visa Centers to reduce instances of contract substitution. • Ensure the Wage Protection System covers all companies and individuals.

The government increased overall anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2011 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 250,000 Qatari riyal (QR) ($68,680) for offenses involving adult male victims, and up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 300,000 QR ($82,420) for offenses involving adult female or child victims. Heads of recruiting agencies found guilty of trafficking faced up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 QR ($54,950). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Under Law number 4 of 2009, the government criminalized the confiscation of workers’ passports by a sponsor, punishable by a maximum fine of 25,000 QR ($6,870).

During the reporting period, the government investigated and prosecuted two sex trafficking cases and convicted three individuals, two for forced labor and one for violating the domestic worker law. The government reported it investigated and prosecuted one case for sex trafficking and one case for forced labor during the previous reporting period; it did not report any convictions. Despite pandemic-related court closures from March 15 to June 1, the government reported the investigation of two sex trafficking cases and subsequent referral to the PPO for criminal proceedings under the anti-trafficking law; both cases remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. In a case stemming from the previous reporting period, the Criminal Court charged two Pakistani citizens under the anti-trafficking law for forced labor and sentenced the defendants to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of 200,000 QR ($54,950) each and deportation from Qatar upon completion of their sentences. One of the defendants reportedly hired two domestic workers in Pakistan and brought the workers with her to Qatar, where she forced them to work without pay and physically abused them for several years in her home; according to case details, the second defendant also lived in the home. Additionally, the court ruled that both defendants pay the victims 1 million QR ($274,730) each in compensation. This case was Qatar’s first forced labor conviction; in the previous reporting period, the government did not report any convictions for sex or labor trafficking. In August 2020, the first instance Criminal Court convicted a Qatari national, for the first time, for violating the domestic worker law and sentenced her to one year imprisonment for physically abusing three domestic workers and denying the workers freedom of movement outside of her home. The PPO filed a separate case for forced labor under the anti-trafficking law, but the case was archived after the victims accepted financial compensation in return for dropping the charges. The PPO prosecuted a variety of cases exhibiting trafficking indicators under the labor laws, residency laws, or the penal code; these cases included 13 instances of violence against domestic workers, 20 cases of passport confiscation, and 66 cases of visa fraud. The government reported it issued verdicts in three cases of violence against domestic workers under the penal code, 12 verdicts for passport confiscation under the Labor Law, and 37 verdicts for visa fraud under the Residency Law; it solely administered fines in all of these verdicts, while the remainder of cases remained pending in the prosecution stage.

The LDRCs received 2,679 labor-related complaints, from which ensued 2,214 judiciary verdicts (down from 7,561 verdicts out of 11,703 complaints the previous reporting period, a 78 percent drop in complaints), and the remainder resulted in out-of-court settlements or archived grievances due to incomplete evidence. The significant drop in labor-related complaints was likely a result of the closure of the LDRCs for most of the reporting period (between March and December 2020) due to the pandemic; they only reopened at 30 percent capacity after December. The government reported it launched a hotline so workers could continue to submit complaints during the reporting period while the LDRCs were closed; however, the government did not report how many complaints the hotline received or the outcome of these grievances, including whether any were referred for further investigation or criminal prosecution. In most workplace grievances, the government reported it issued verdicts in favor of the employees and not their employers. Prior to reaching LDRC, a worker could file a complaint with the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs (MADLSA) where the complaint had to be resolved amicably within one week or MADLSA would refer the complaint to the committee. The law mandated the LDRCs to reach resolution within three weeks for any contract or labor dispute, which aimed to help reduce the heavy financial burdens placed on laborers often left without income or housing while waiting on case closure. NGOs and media sources consistently reported that cases took significantly longer to resolve in practice and in many instances of non-payment or delayed payment of wages, the worker did not receive the wages they were owed. Additionally, the government did not report if the LDRCs had a mechanism to refer any of the complaints received that had trafficking indicators to the MOI for further investigation; and as the committees almost exclusively handled cases of non- or delayed payment of wages, a trafficking indicator, potential victims of forced labor may not have been identified during the reporting period. The government did not report investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials for complicity in human trafficking offenses.

Several government entities did not routinely categorize forced labor as human trafficking, but rather as criminal assaults and immigration or labor law violations. Prosecutors almost universally used the Qatari penal code to address trafficking crimes rather than the anti-trafficking law due to perceived swiftness and higher likelihood of successful prosecutions under charges that were easier to prove and more straightforward, which weakened deterrence of the crime. Consequently, authorities rarely punished traffickers with dissuasive penalties. Instead, authorities prosecuted victims regularly for immigration and prostitution violations, rather than identifying them as trafficking victims and referring them to care. The government lacked a clear and efficient judicial process to prosecute trafficking crimes or enforce labor law violations, and its primary solution for resolving labor violations continued to be a transfer of employer sponsorship, mandated back payment of wages, fines, and blacklisting of companies. One prosecutor within the PPO specialized in trafficking crimes, and the government continued to build up its dedicated trafficking police and prosecution units; however, because the units received all cases related to violations of residency and labor law, their capacity to focus solely on trafficking cases remained low.

As in previous years, the National Human Rights Committee alongside other government entities financed and conducted specialized, extensive trainings on trafficking issues. The Police Training Institute of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) held an unknown number of courses and workshops for officers and staff, including departments of passports, border crossings, search and follow-up, human rights, and criminal investigations, which investigate and deal with trafficking cases. The government coordinated with an international organization and NGOs to improve training programs for government workers in disciplines with a trafficking nexus, such as labor inspection. The Institute for Public Administration delivered a comprehensive three-day training on trafficking, specifically on identifying potential cases of forced labor, to all inspectors; the institute subsequently adapted the training for the Labor Relations Department and the staff of the MADLSA complaints hotline. During the reporting period, the NCCHT organized and coordinated two training sessions and workshops on trafficking issues with a foreign embassy in Doha on investigative techniques and best practices for interviewing potential trafficking victims, attended by an unknown number of staff.

The government maintained mixed protection efforts. It identified and referred more victims to its trafficking-specific shelter and provided alternative accommodation to victims despite pandemic-related shelter closures, but officials did not consistently use standard procedures to identify victims and refer them to care, increasing the possibility that authorities wrongfully penalized some unidentified trafficking victims. The government continued to use its trafficking-specific shelter designated for both male and female victims, which consisted of six refurbished villas for a maximum capacity of 200 residents, managed by the Qatari Red Crescent Society through an agreement with the government. The shelter was equipped with a health center, computer lab, dining facility, and laundry room, and had a budget of nearly $823,000 per annum. Victims could receive counseling and leave freely; officials assisted them with repatriation, if desired.

During the reporting period, the government identified and referred 35 trafficking victims for housing and protective services, compared to 10 victims identified and referred to care in the last reporting period. The government did not provide disaggregated data on victim nationality or type of trafficking for the current reporting period. The government reported the trafficking shelter was closed from March to September 2020 due to an outbreak of COVID-19 infections among the shelter’s residents and the government’s desire to use the shelter as temporary living quarters for COVID-19 patients. The government reported that while the shelter was shut down, officials temporarily referred victims to foreign embassies, while others who were infected received free medical services regardless of legal status. The government-funded Aman Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center continued to provide basic medical care, social services, psychological treatment, housing, repatriation assistance, and reintegration for female and child victims of domestic abuse, including female workers who fled their sponsors. During the reporting period, the center provided shelter to a total of 71 victims of domestic violence, which included 42 Qataris and 29 foreign nationals. The Aman Center (Aman) could host victims of trafficking in coordination with the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) but did not report if it identified any of the 71 vulnerable women and children as trafficking victims during the reporting period. Aman provided repatriation assistance to those who wished to return to their home countries. Aman had a budget of approximately $3.8 million annually. Residents had the right to leave of their own volition without supervision, although chaperones were on call in the event security was needed; residents also could access the shelter even if their employers filed charges against them. Several foreign diplomatic missions ran all-purpose shelters for their female nationals, including Indonesia, Kenya and Philippines, which an unknown number of trafficking victims used.

The government had formal victim identification procedures and a referral mechanism, but not all officials systematically followed these procedures. The government previously revised its victim referral mechanism to coordinate victim identification and referral efforts between the government and NGOs; the referral system included the provision of shelter, health care, and legal assistance to trafficking victims. The Ministry of Labor worked with the embassies of labor-source countries to determine which cases it should refer to the trafficking shelter. Some officials reportedly used an existing manual to identify potential trafficking victims, but law enforcement personnel and other government entities did not report proactively screening for any trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, including domestic workers, who the labor laws typically isolated and excluded from some protections. However, during the reporting period, the NCCHT worked with an international organization to produce a booklet for use by officials who may come into contact with potential trafficking victims; the booklet highlighted key trafficking legislation and information on how to recognize the crime and identify victims, as well as their rights. Generally, some government agencies did not categorize the abuse of domestic workers as forced labor or human trafficking cases due to a lack of evidence or witnesses and therefore sometimes failed to identify victims; however, some domestic workers voluntarily left the country in lieu of filing complaints or pursuing charges against their traffickers.

Systemic hurdles continued to limit victim protection and access to justice, especially for domestic workers, who remained highly vulnerable to forced labor. The March 2018 Domestic Worker Law stipulated that domestic workers were required to have government-verified contracts; to 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; to be guaranteed access to the dispute resolution committees to resolve workplace grievances; and to be given allowances to leave their employers in cases of exploitation or violation of contract terms. However, lack of clarity in the law, inadequate mechanisms to enforce the provisions, and obstacles in reporting violations continued to leave this population at risk for forced labor and without care or justice. NGOs reported concerns that the 2018 law left several provisions vague, including mechanisms to ensure employers actually paid workers or provided entitled annual leave; additionally, details on the allotted weekly day off and food and accommodation standards were limited. The law did not refer to paid overtime and allowed for a workday that exceeded the 10-hour limit if there was an agreement between the employer and employee. According to the law, employers who breached their obligations on key provisions related to working hours, living conditions, weekly rest day, annual leave, and end of service benefits should receive a fine, which could be doubled if the employer failed to pay the worker on time; the government convicted one Qatari employer for violating the domestic labor law by physically abusing three domestic workers during the reporting year but did not report if it fined other employers for violating other provisions of the law. The government reported MADLSA inspectors could not conduct inspections in private residences without written permission from the PPO, limiting its ability to enforce protections outlined in the law and identify key trafficking indicators or potential trafficking victims from inspections. Although domestic workers have been able to file grievances with the LDRCs since 2018, workers rarely filed complaints due to prolonged court proceedings, the uncertainty the employee would receive the wages they were owed even if the dispute ended in the employee’s favor, fear of retaliation from employers, and the limited scope in types of complaints the committees handle.

Because officials did not widely use formal identification and screening procedures, some unidentified trafficking victims may have been detained and deported for contravening Qatari labor and immigration laws, even for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. The 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 countercharges by their employers that resulted in administrative deportation proceedings. Officials reported it did not consider “absconding” charges until after the resolution of existing labor disputes or criminal proceedings, including trafficking crimes, although labor attachés and worker advocates noted that in practice it was often difficult for workers to overcome 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 their sponsors’ failure to register them or renew their residency documents as required by Qatari law. Authorities sometimes charged 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, ensuring their safety, and allowing them to pursue financial compensation. However, authorities did not offer such protections in all cases, and many workers still opted to return home rather than remain in the country to assist prosecutors in convicting traffickers. Through the MOI, victims could change employers in cases of violated contractual terms, such as employers not paying the victim or forcing them to work excessive hours. The government did not report how many victims received legal support or were granted transfer-of-employer approval during the reporting year. During the reporting period, the MOI reported having transferred 2,902 workers who suffered some form of abuse or violation of their contracts in 2020, down from 6,531 workers in the previous reporting period; however, the government did not report if any of these workers were trafficking victims. Interior officials had the authority to extend the residency of a domestic worker pending the resolution of a case but did not report if it provided any workers this service during the reporting period. The law stated the complaining party could reside in Qatar pending resolution of legal proceedings. The government reported it did not deport those who faced retaliation or retribution in their country of origin.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The NCCHT reportedly met monthly to implement its National Action Plan to combat trafficking, which spanned from 2019-2022 and prioritized prevention, protection, prosecution, and regional and international cooperation. During the previous reporting period, the Supreme Judiciary Council began drafting its own strategic action plan with specific goals related to trafficking, increasing judicial awareness, and enhancing practices to identify and address forced labor cases; however, the council did not report whether its own action plan was completed or if it had begun to be implemented during the year. During the reporting period, the government coordinated with an NGO and an international organization to launch a campaign specifically designed for domestic workers and their employers to raise awareness on precautions related to the pandemic, best practices and guidance on how to contact the COVID-19 hotline and the MADLSA hotline for labor complaints through text messages in English, Arabic, Urdu, Nepali, Bengali, Tamil, Sinhala, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, Swahili, Bahasa, and Tagalog. The messages also reminded workers of their rights and employers of their legal obligations under the domestic workers law. The government and its partners sent a total of 1.85 million text messages to domestic workers in Qatar and 92,620 text messages to employers of domestic workers. The campaign included an awareness raising video that officials disseminated in conjunction with International Domestic Workers Day in June 2020. Additionally, the government launched a series of public service announcements on traditional and social media on how to identify forced labor indicators, such as passport confiscation. In coordination with an international organization, labor inspectors disseminated a flyer on passport confiscation and promoted it through social media in conjunction with World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. The QVCs, established to help regulate the recruitment process in eight critical labor-source countries, organized two awareness campaigns during the reporting period on worker rights in Qatar. The government maintained its publication and distribution of manuals for expatriates in Arabic, English, and several labor-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 March 2020, the Government Communications Office and MADLSA launched a messaging service on an internet communications platform to clarify Qatar’s labor law and regulations for employers and employees. Officials maintained multiple hotlines for use by vulnerable migrant workers, including trafficking victims; as in the previous year, the government did not report how many calls the lines received.

The government continued to implement its January 2020 decision to extend the abolishment of the exit permit requirement to additionally allow workers not protected under the labor law, including domestic workers, workers of ministries and other government entities, public institutions, sea and agriculture workers, and workers employed in casual work, to depart Qatar without employer approval at any time during the course of an employment contract. Employers in the private sector still had the right to designate as critical no more than five percent of their workforce, who required employer approval prior to exiting the country; however, domestic workers could not be deemed critical. As of August 2020, MADLSA had approved 42,171 requests for exit permit exemptions. NGOs continued to express concern with a condition of the decision that required domestic workers to inform their employer in person 72 hours prior to their departure, as this requirement could give time to an abusive employer to use retaliatory measures against workers, such as filing absconding charges to stop the worker from leaving Qatar. Other NGOs reported that some immigration officials still required employers to complete paperwork before allowing workers to the leave the country, suggesting that awareness of the decision was low across government agencies.

In August 2020, through the amendment of the labor law by Law No. 18 of 2020 and the amendment of the Sponsorship Law by Law No. 19 of 2020, the government announced the abolishment of the NOC, which allowed all workers, including domestic workers, to change jobs without the permission of their employers after fulfilling certain conditions – including completing a probationary period and serving notice. Workers could electronically notify their employers of their desire to quit, giving them the notice period mandated by the law before moving to a new job. The worker could initiate the transfer through MADLSA’s digital system, which notified the employer of the transfer and through which the worker could submit the required documents to begin the process. The worker would receive notification that the transfer was complete via text message from MADLSA, and the new employer then would initiate a digital employment contract for the new job for the worker to sign. Upon authentication of the digital contract, the worker could begin working for the new employer. Since August 2020, MADLSA reported more than 100,000 workers had initiated an employment transfer. The government included a provision in these amendments to ensure all workers could change jobs without the notice period if the employer did not fulfill their legal obligations to the worker, such as endangering the worker’s health, assaulting the worker, or misrepresenting contract terms. However, media sources and NGOs reported several obstacles during implementation of the reform; such as instances of employers retaliating against an employee who initiated a transfer by canceling their visa or filing an absconding charge prior to the transfer being completed – rendering the worker illegal and at increased risk of trafficking, detention, or deportation. Moreover, some workers did not seek transfers for fear of threats and retaliation from their employer; NGOs reported officials of labor-source country embassies advised workers, especially domestic workers, to continue in their current employment if they were paid on time and there was no threat to life. Overall, NGOs reported that although the removal of the exit permit and the abolishment of the NOC were improvements, the sponsorship system would continue to persist as long as both the employee’s work and residence visas were tied to an employer and employers could continue to file absconding charges against a worker as a retaliatory measure.

The government continued to employ its Wage Protection System (WPS), which required employers to pay workers electronically on a timely basis in accordance with the labor law and automatically flagged instances of wage abuse. The government reported 97 percent of laborers in Qatar were registered in the WPS at the close of the reporting period; however, it reported 83 percent of laborers actually received payments via the system, while more than 65,000 companies were registered for wage disbursements through this mechanism during the reporting year. The WPS continued to exclude workers not covered by the Labor Law, including domestic workers, sea and agricultural workers, government employees, casual workers, and workers in the petroleum sector. However, in April 2020, MADLSA and the Qatar Central Bank adopted measures to promote and facilitate domestic workers’ access to bank accounts, thereby enhancing their wage protection and lessening their risk to exploitation and potential instances of forced labor; an international organization also reported that a proposal to extend coverage of the WPS to domestic workers was under deliberation at the close of the reporting period. MADLSA’s Wage Protection System Unit worked to detect non-compliance in the WPS and subsequently penalize companies and employers; however, MADLSA’s enforcement efforts depended on the PPO and lacked the formal authority to issue fines or other stringent penalties. Accordingly, during the reporting year, MADSLA blacklisted 6,743 companies for non-compliance with the WPS, which barred the companies from placing public bids, applying for bank loans, seeking new projects, or recruiting new employees and transferring employees. MADLSA could refer companies to the PPO for criminal proceedings, and in severe cases of non-compliance, the PPO could penalize a company through fines. However, referrals to the PPO were rare – as wage abuse cases could be very lengthy in court. The government did not report if it referred any of the blacklisted companies to the PPO for criminal prosecution, or if it classified any as potential trafficking cases. In August 2020, the government announced a non-discriminatory minimum wage through Law No. 17 of 2020, which came into force in March 2021, applying to all workers in all sectors, including domestic workers; MADLSA reported the new law would positively affect 300,000 workers. In addition to the basic minimum wage, the law required employers to ensure that workers have decent accommodations and food, and the law stipulated allowances employers must provide for those provisions. Although this law could likely improve living conditions of workers, and thereby lessen their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse, experts have claimed the strength of the WPS’s monitoring system would determine the success of the minimum wage, and that penalties would need to become more stringent and applied more swiftly to ensure compliance.

During the reporting year, MADLSA reported conducting 27,996 worksite and 7,963 accommodations visits, which resulted in 4,026 violation reports and referrals to the PPO, up from 2,553 reported violations during the previous reporting period. The government blacklisted 136 recruitment agencies and temporarily closed 263 worksites for violation of summer work hours; however, analogous to previous years neither MADLSA nor the PPO investigated any of these cases as potential trafficking crimes. As in previous years, the government was unable to provide data on the following: the number of domestic worker complaints, non-payment of wages filings, and other migrant worker-reported grievances related to the inspections. The government continued to work with ILO’s Doha office to strengthen anti-trafficking operating capacity and generate sustainable labor reform efforts throughout Qatar. The government maintained 50 bilateral agreements and five memoranda of understanding with labor-source countries that addressed recruitment issues and worker rights, and it worked with individual countries to certify vetted labor recruitment offices to reduce fraud or excessive debts that could facilitate labor trafficking.

In the previous reporting period, the government opened 14 QVCs in eight critical labor source countries (providing 80 percent of the total workforce in Qatar), to include Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The centers were responsible for finalizing all procedural elements pertaining to labor recruitment, including fingerprinting, medical examinations, verifying educational certificates, signing contracts in local languages, issuing Qatari residency permits prior to source country departure, opening bank accounts for workers, and attempting to ensure employers pay all fees. The QVCs aimed to reduce instances of contract-switching, in which recruiters lured workers under one contract in home countries and subsequently forced them to sign new ones with lower wages once in Qatar by ensuring one unified contract was concurrently filed abroad and in Qatar. In January 2021, the QVC in Dhaka, Bangladesh began to process work visas for domestic workers; in addition, the MOI announced it planned to include issuance of domestic worker visas at other QVC locations. Previously, the QVCs did not accommodate domestic worker applications. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit foreign victims in Qatar. Men and women from Bangladesh, Cameroon, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Uganda, and other countries voluntarily migrate to Qatar as unskilled laborers and domestic workers, often paying illegal and exorbitant fees to unscrupulous recruiters in their home countries, thereby increasing their vulnerability to debt bondage. Many migrant workers subsequently face conditions indicative of labor trafficking, to include restricted movement, delayed salaries or payment withholding, denial of employment-associated benefits, passport confiscation, and threats of deportation; in a small number of cases, migrant workers face physical, mental, and sexual abuse as well as threats of serious physical or financial harm. Anecdotally, sex traffickers force some women who migrate for legitimate employment offers to engage in commercial sex. As of February 2021, the government reported that there were no DPRK workers remaining in Qatar. Cuban nationals working in Qatar may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.

Qatar’s unskilled migrant workers are the largest group at risk of trafficking; those employed as domestic workers remain the most vulnerable. Unscrupulous recruiters in source countries and employers in Qatar exploit economic migration to prey on prospective workers. Predatory recruitment agencies in labor-sending countries extract inflated fees from aspiring migrant workers or lure them to Qatar with fraudulent employment contracts, rendering workers vulnerable to forced labor once in the country. Among foreign workers, female domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, as Qatar’s culture of privacy can lead to isolation in private residences because officials lack authority to enter them. Since January 2020, domestic workers have the right to leave the country without permission from their employers; and since August 2020, domestic workers have the right to change employers at any time under certain conditions without permission from their employers. Despite this, awareness and enforcement of the law providing these rights remain limited. Additionally, individuals in Qatar sell “free” visas to migrants and occasionally demand regular payments, enabling migrant workers to work illegally and without legal recourse against their respective sponsors. Many businesses reportedly fail to pay their expatriate employees in a timely manner or at all, forcing workers to choose between leaving the country with heavy debts or staying in Qatar with the hope of eventually being paid.

The pandemic increased the vulnerability of low-income workers in Qatar. The government adopted measures in March 2020 to ease the negative financial effects of the pandemic on businesses, which allowed employers to reduce salaries, alter contract terms, and change workers’ employment status from active to indefinite paid leave. Additionally, workers of cleaning companies stopped receiving wages for months due to pandemic-related restrictions. Terminated workers were unable to return to their home countries due to lack of flights, and many were forced to stay in Qatar for months without pay. The government reported it did not deport residents who were unable to work, but it did not provide amnesty to those who lost their migration status due to job loss. Although the government implored companies to continue paying workers during the pandemic, it did not require companies to do so, and job loss and non-payment of wages forced many workers to seek informal employment, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking. The government reported it provided healthcare services cost-free for all workers in Qatar, regardless of nationality.

Qatar’s employment-based sponsorship system, which continues to undergo significant reform, continues to place control disproportionately in the hands of employers, who have unilateral power to cancel residence permits; up until the current reporting period, employers were also able to prevent workers from changing employers and deny permission for them to leave the country. Debt-laden migrants who face abuse or are misled often avoid reporting their exploitation due to fear of reprisal or deportation, the protracted recourse process, or lack of knowledge of their legal rights, thereby exacerbating or prolonging their forced labor situation. Many migrant workers often live in confined, unsanitary conditions, and many complain of excessive working hours and hazardous working conditions. Reports allege the vast majority of expatriate workers’ passports were in their employers’ possession, despite laws against passport confiscation.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future