Posted on July 29, 2015

Qatar has been making significant efforts to fully comply with the minimum standards for elimination of human trafficking, a US State Department report has observed, said Gulf Times. The Trafficking in Humans Report 2015, which was issued yesterday, placed Qatar on the Tier 2 Watch List, the same as last year. The report, while highlighting a number of steps taken by the Qatar government to address trafficking-related concerns, has also expressed concern over some issues and made a series of recommendations.

In February, the government enacted legislation requiring employers to pay workers electronically and increased penalties for employers violating the labour code, the report noted. Employers were given six months to begin its implementation. The government reported 422 identified trafficking victims, 228 of whom were victims of forced labour, a substantial increase from 62 reported the previous year. It also conducted visits to work sites throughout the country, meeting labourers and educating them and their employers on trafficking regulations.

The government reported initiating investigation into 11 trafficking cases but did not convict any trafficking offenders in 2014, in comparison with nine convictions obtained the previous year, the report said. The penalties provided for in Qatar’s comprehensive anti-trafficking law, enacted in October 2011, are sufficiently stringent, the report noted, adding that the law that prohibits employers from withholding workers’ passports “was sporadically and inconsistently enforced during the reporting period and the government did not report any fines imposed on sponsors for withholding passports”.

The government also continued to provide a number of training workshops, related to trafficking issues, for law-enforcement officials, public prosecutors, judges, inspectors, civil society organisers and public health professionals. “The government increased its efforts to protect some victims of trafficking though many victims of forced labour likely remained unidentified and unprotected,” the report stressed. The government also reported that the Qatar Foundation for Protection and Social Rehabilitation (QFPSR) had maintained procedures to proactively identify and respond to the needs of trafficking victims. QFPSR sheltered 20 women and children trafficking victims in 2014, an increase from 11 trafficking victims in the previous reporting period. 

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The government had a budget of $3.2mn (QR11.5mn) to support QFPSR’s anti-trafficking efforts, in comparison with $ 2.8mn (QR10.2mn) the previous year. QFPSR, meanwhile, continued to operate an anti-trafficking hotline. The government used its national victim referral system to co-ordinate victim identification and referral efforts between the authorities and non-government organisations. The referral system included the provision of safe shelter, healthcare and legal assistance. 

The government encouraged victims to testify against their traffickers by assuring them safety, providing free legal counselling and allowing them to pursue various claims, such as financial compensation. It also implemented the National Plan for Combating Human Trafficking for 2010-2015, which aimed to prevent the spread of trafficking, provide protection for victims and punish traffickers. Qatar Foundation and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy both issued mandatory workers’ labour rights standards for all their construction and service delivery contracts. The standards legally bind all their contractors and subcontractors to adhere to labour standards stricter than the Qatari labour law, the report points out.

The government routinely inspected and monitored recruitment companies and actively sought to punish companies that were found making fraudulent offers or imposing exorbitant fees in selling visas. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs blacklisted 200 companies for breaking the provisions of the labour law, in comparison with 2,000 the previous year, which remained blacklisted. Additionally, it blacklisted 14 manpower agencies in Doha and 55 manpower agencies in Nepal, the US report said. 

The report  made some recommendations for Qatar. These include the abolition of or significant amendments to provisions of the sponsorship system; significantly increasing efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offences, as well as convicting and punishing traffickers under the anti-trafficking law; and extending labour law protection to domestic workers and ensuring that any changes to the sponsorship system apply to all workers, among others.