Qatari leader in Nepal reminded of workers’ rights

Rights group urges Qatari emir to go beyond pleasantries and guarantee migrant worker rights

The delegation of Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani along with Nepali counterparts at Shital Niwas on Tuesday. Photo: RATNA SHRESTHA / RSS

For most Nepalis, the arrival of the emir of Qatar to Kathmandu in four jets on Tuesday was marked by just one matter of importance: the government declared it a holiday.

The decision was greeted by howls of ridicule in the Nepali cybersphere with posts poking fun at a former monarchy pulling all stops to give a lavish welcome to a foreign monarch.

To be sure, Qatar is economically important because there are an estimated 400,000 Nepalis working in the Gulf emirate and an important source of remittance to families back home. 

However, working conditions for Nepalis in the Gulf in general and Qatar in particular are said to be poor with few safeguards on labour rights. Migrant worker welfare was said to be high on the agenda in meetings between Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

Dahal is also said to have brought up the issue of Nepali student Bipin Joshi believed to have been among those abducted by Hamas in its 7 October attack on southern Israel in which 10 other Nepalis were killed.

It is not clear how effective this will be since Qatar’s mediation in the Israel-Hamas conflict has been deadlocked as Israel disregards international pressure to stop killing Palestinian civilians.

Sheikh Hamad al-Thani arrived in Kathmandu from a visit to Bangladesh, another country with a sizeable migrant worker population in Qatar. 

In a statement prior to the Qatar emir’s visit to the two countries, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Qatar to take labour rights and welfare more seriously.

‘It is important for Qatar, Bangladesh, and Nepal to go beyond exchanging diplomatic pleasantries over their longstanding labour ties and seize this moment to publicly commit to concrete, enforceable protections that address the serious abuses that migrant workers in Qatar continue to face,’ said Michael Page of HRW. 

He added: ‘The Qatari emir should not just meet heads of state, but also visit dialysis centres filled with migrant worker returnees from Qatar and speak with the families of workers who died in Qatar to see the grave consequences of inadequate Qatari labour protections.’

Qatari leader in Nepal reminded of workers’ rights NT
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani arrived in Kathmandu on Tuesday on a two-day state visit. Photo RSS

Migrant workers from Bangladesh, Nepal and other labour-exporting countries play a vital role in Qatar’s economy and were instrumental in the construction of the 2022 World Cup. 

‘The Qatar-to-Nepal and Bangladesh routes that the Qatari leader is taking are well-trodden, with thousands of workers making this journey daily,’ the HRW statement said.

Although Nepali workers send back remittances from Qatar, many end up deeper in debt to pay back unscrupulous recruiters and employers who cheat them of promised salaries. Heat stress from global warming has also made working conditions impossible, and many Nepali workers return with kidney failures.

HRW says some workers also have been deported for demanding wages and benefits promised by contractors, and there have been thousands of unexplained deaths of young, healthy migrant workers in Qatar.

Nepal ends up paying compensation to the families of many migrant workers who have lost their lives, not Qatar. HRW says it has documented cases of Nepali families who received no support from Qatari authorities or employers after losing the worker supporting them. 

Only some Qatari companies complied with a directive making contractors provide life insurance for migrant workers, even during the construction spree for the 2022 World Cup. 

The climate crisis is increasing outmigration from Nepal at a time when it is also making Qatar too hot to work in. 

HRW said the Qatari authorities have introduced labour reforms, but they came too late and were too little and too narrow in scope.

“The labour agreement to be signed during the emir’s visit should incorporate concrete provisions to address these issues,' the HRW statement read, adding that the best way for the emir to mark his trip would be to guarantee migrant worker welfare.

Meanwhile, an investigative story by Nepali journalists Samik Kharel and Roshan Sedhai on widows of Nepali workers who died during the construction of facilities for the 2022 World Cup was runner-up for best story in the civil rights category of the Fetisov Awards given in Istanbul on Tuesday.