World Cup migrant workers exposing exploitation are being identified by informants operating under cover within their camps, activists claim.
Researchers investigating migrants’ conditions have found they are being quizzed themselves by workers on stadium construction sites in Qatar, The Mail on Sunday has been told.
The activists say questions were put to them in a formal manner that suggested their interrogators were professionally trained.
Equidem, the global human-rights and labour-rights organisation which works extensively in Qatar, has been told by sources that these under-cover security officials have been recruited in migrant workers’ host countries.
‘We are in constant contact with workers in Qatar,’ said Mustafa Qadri, Equidem’s chief executive. ‘And so, while there is an element of speculation, we know that people from Kenya, from India, from Nepal, who look and talk like any normal workers, are basically asking questions of people that are known to be activists.’
The suspected informants have been identified within the residential camps set up to build Qatar’s infrastructure ahead of November’s tournament, with their fairly recent arrival sparking suspicion among other workers on site.
It is thought they are being placed in the residential camps not only to extract information about the work of human-rights bodies, but to identify any potential strike action and prevent terrorist activity.
‘Our sense is it’s being arranged by the government, not individual companies,’ Qadri said. ‘But the companies may have their own people as well.
Researchers have been investigating migrants’ conditions on construction sites in Qatar
The Gulf state has been blighted by allegations of human rights abuse of construction workers
‘I have to be extremely careful. There has been a high level of surveillance, not just of journalists and people like me visiting the countries, but also of workers. And there is a pattern of reprisals for workers who register complaints.’
Malcolm Bidali, the Kenyan whistleblower who worked as a security guard in Qatar, was arrested, imprisoned and eventually fined for ‘broadcasting and publishing false news with the intent of endangering the public system of the state’.
Bidali, a blogger who was held in solitary confinement for a month before being released last June, reported that he too was interrogated on his efforts to expose the mistreatment of migrant workers on World Cup construction sites.
Most of the stadium building work is complete but workers have told Equidem about suspicious activity at both the few active sites and at other construction projects.
‘Yes, you have trade unions on the ground and other stakeholders doing really good work, but there is this very tightly controlled space within which you can formally operate with the government’s approval,’ Qadri said. ‘But if you’re outside that, independent voices face significant risks.’
Qadri contributed to a webinar last week organised by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. He highlighted how thousands of migrant workers have not been paid their wages, while the organisers have paid David Beckham a reported £150m to serve as a World Cup ambassador.
A protest of 6,500 footballs filled with sand outside the FIFA headquarters in Zurich to symbolise 6,500 workers who died on World Cup construction sites
Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup between 21 November and 18 December this year
Qadri also noted that visiting journalists and activists were banned from taking photographs of the residential camps and that there were concerns that migrants would be sent home before the tournament lest their conditions reflected poorly on the hosts.
Nicholas McGeehan, co-founder of the Human Rights organisation FairSquare, called on FIFA and Qatar to set up a compensation scheme for the families of migrant workers who have gone unpaid, been injured or suffered unexplained deaths in the country.
The Guardian revealed how 6,500 migrants have died in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded. The country’s extreme summer heat and poor working conditions are thought to be factors in the deaths.
The Lusail Stadium, one of the eight venues that will stage games at the World Cup this year
‘Seventy per cent of migrant worker deaths are unexplained, and on World Cup stadium projects, that still runs at 50 per cent,’ McGeehan said. ‘The rate of unexplained deaths in the UK probably runs at 1 per cent. The failure of the Qataris to put in place fundamental protections is inexcusable. Workers are essentially toiling in a toxic sauna.
‘[Compensation] is doable and it would be transformative to the lives of the families who built this World Cup. Workers borrowed obscene amounts of money to get to Qatar with the hope of lifting their families out of poverty and some returned in body bags with no answer for their loved ones as to how they died.’
The Qatari government described the allegations as ‘patently untrue’. ‘Qatar works proactively with NGOs, like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, to resolve grievances submitted to them by workers,’ an official said in a statement.