28/08/2012 09:00 BST | Updated 26/10/2012 06:12 BST

Qatar's Exploited Migrants


As ongoing unrest in neighbouring Bahrain rages, Qatar has been largely ignored by almost everyone. I feel some light should be shone on the not-so-perfect Gulf State to help people understand what life for migrants is really like out there in Doha City.

Ruled by an absolute monarchy since 1971, Qatar has climbed the ladder of worldwide fame and fortune on account of having one of the largest proven reserves of oil and natural gas in the world. It ranked as the world's richest country in 2010 with a GDP that surpasses all western economic power houses.

Life in Qatar's capital city Doha is filled with never-ending dreams thanks to a ludicrous amount of top class amenities and luxuries courtesy of rising global oil prices. The wealthiest portion of the population however only consists of actual Qatari nationals. Gluttonous lifestyle have been built upon a backbone of those not falling into the 'mega rich' category. Unsurprisingly their stories for the most part remain untold.

I first discovered these stories as a result of my family. We moved to Qatar when I was young and left again in 2003. Our social class in Qatar is what I coin as the three W's (Wealthy, Western and White). Filling roles in a disparaging hierarchical class system is only ever a good experience for elitists which thankfully I never morphed into.

Obediently sliding into this new social order, my father hired the must have for any rich family; a house maid.

Her name I cannot give but I can reveal she had been brought from a small province in southern India with promise of a highly paid job. We paid her a pittance.

As a young boy I never fully understood what kind of miserable existence migrants have untill my own eyes saw the shocking treatment they faced. For example our house maid, like many others received a set wage determined by a faceless contractor who litterally owned her. My memory of the poor wages she recieved is so distinctive as I remember my mother sneaking bundles of extra cash to her because she was sending wages home to Kerala for her poverty stricken family.

Reminiscing about the five years our house maid served our every need I now feel deeply ashamed that I was so naïve about the reality in Qatar for foreign workers. I mean our own house maid lived, cooked and washed in a tiny room attached to our villa not even large enough to house washing machines making it smaller than most utility rooms - I did and said nothing about these conditions.

How could I have been so apathetic as I stood by witnessing the sheer racism all around me with house maids and other workers, treated like commodity, frequently disappearing (deported) or being beaten and raped.

Thanks to some brave individuals such as Roee Ruttenberg we are slowly beginning to see the stories of Marginalized groups that Qatari PR would rather you not see.

Foreign labourers working in Qatar make up three-quarters of those residing in the country and appallingly have little-to-no rights. A vast majority of men and women are from South Asia and Southeast Asia who, migrate willingly in order to earn a pittance that they then send back home to their spouses and children. Some migrants are lucky to get a decent paying job most however are subsequently trafficked on arrival in Qatar and forced into involuntary servitude as domestic workers, labourers, and, to a lesser extent, exploited as commercial sex workers.

Migrant workers are not wealthy, so they are conveniently omitted from assessments of national wealth. Hence, figures in which Qataris are the world's richest people, are highly deceiving, as the majority of the people in Qatar are not actually counted. It would be like saying those living in London are the richest in Britain based solely on the incomes of those living in Mayfair.

Disgustingly the sponsorship laws that serve western workers so well are commonly used amongst Arab countries of the Persian Gulf particularly those in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). These laws have been widely described as akin to modern-day slavery for migrant workers of 'lower category' (Asians, Indians etc).

Workers without sponsorship may not enter Qatar but once a sponsor is found they also cannot leave without explicit permission (an exit permit must first be awarded). Numerous governmental sponsors have prevented employees from leaving the country, effectively holding them against their will. Some individuals after resigning have not been issued with exit permits, denying them their basic right to leave. A catch-22 situation also exists as workers are forced to accept appalling salaries and conditions otherwise they could also lose their sponsorship resulting in their almost immediate deportation.

Additionally some migrant workers find themselves under various forms of abuse and exploitation, many too afraid to speak out about the physical violence and sexual attacks they are subjected to on a regular basis. Rumours exist which describe Qatar as having a sex industry that recycles every few months where prostitutes are rounded up, deported and then frequently replaced. In extreme cases where Qataris have been caught engaging in homosexuality people have even been murdered.

Worryingly Qatar's ruling elite hold close ties with numerous British businesses and political sectors yet our government knowing what happens still does nothing to condemn human trafficking in Qatar.

I ask where is the voice of criticism over these revelations?