Nepalese workers building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar have been denied leave to attend funerals or visit relatives following the earthquakes in the Himalayan country that have killed more than 8,000 people, its government has revealed.
The government in Kathmandu has also for the first time publicly criticised Fifa, world football’s governing body, and its commercial partners. It insists that they must put more pressure on Qatar to improve conditions for the 1.5 million migrants employed in the Gulf state as part of the World Cup construction boom.
About 400,000 of the workers on the project are from Nepal, with the rest mainly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Tek Bahadur Gurung, Nepal’s labour minister, said: “After the earthquake of 25 April, we requested all companies in Qatar to give their Nepalese workers special leave and pay for their air fare home. While workers in some sectors of the economy have been given this, those on World Cup construction sites are not being allowed to leave because of the pressure to complete projects on time.
“They have lost relatives and their homes and are enduring very difficult conditions in Qatar. This is adding to their suffering.”
Gurung said Nepal’s government had been attempting, without success, to contact Fifa and its sponsors to ask them to be more robust with Qatar. “Nothing will change for migrant workers until Fifa and its rich sponsors insist on it. These are the people who are bringing the World Cup to Qatar. But we are a small, poor country and these powerful organisations are not interested in listening to us.”
South Asian countries have been reluctant to speak out about the controversy over migrant workers for fear of alienating Qatar.
Nepal has high unemployment and its government estimates that some $4bn is sent home every year by expatriates, most of them working in the Gulf. This accounts for about 20% of the country’s gross domestic product, and is money that will play a crucial role in helping to rebuild the country following the two recent earthquakes.
Gurung said: “We want to work with the Qatari government and bodies like Fifa because our people need the jobs and Nepal needs the money more than ever. Things are very difficult for the Nepalese and other workers in Qatar, but we have to help them and cannot stay silent any longer.”
Informal talks have taken place between the labour ministers of Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with a view to establishing a more coordinated approach to improving conditions for workers in Qatar.
Source : the guardian