How the kafala system enslaves workers in Qatar

The workers make a queue to go to the stadium to see the final of the Workers cup 2016. It’s their main entertainment in the whole year. Doha, Qatar – May 6, 2016.

DOHA, Qatar – What happens when a country with close to zero football stadiums wins the bid to host the biggest and most anticipated football event in the world?

You build everything from scratch. Or in the case of Qatar, you build everything up from sand.

In 2010, Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, beating other countries like Australia and the United States.

The award was a monumental and controversial one. It would be the first time an Arab country would host the global sports event, and allegations of corruption and bribery had filled the news and sports pages. Questions and innuendoes about the suitability of Qatar as a host country were raised. Some alluded to its hot climate, while many others pointed to its track record of labor rights abuses.

The small desert state on the fringes of the Persian Gulf had roughly over a decade to prepare for the games and assemble the interlocking urban infrastructure and transport logistics that would accommodate the millions of pumped-up football fans.

Money was not an issue. Being the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) made it easy for Qatar to plop down $200 billion to build the necessary stadiums, hotels, expressways ,and metro rail system for its expected guests – and build it in record time.

The job order has triggered an epic construction boom. As of early 2017, the Qatari government was reportedly spending $500 million a week on World Cup projects.

“We don’t want to be in a place where we are still painting while people are coming to the country,” Qatar Finance Minister Ali Shareef Al-Emadi explained to visiting journalists on a government-sponsored press trip to the country in February.

With Qatar’s local population estimated at 300,000, the country has always depended on guest laborers from mostly South Asian and Southeast Asian countries to meet its labor needs and to power its construction workforce. About 90% of the country’s total population are labor migrants.

Even before the FIFA world cup awarding, the kafala sponsorship system associated Qatar with labor abuse. There were reports of low wages that were often delayed or unpaid, deplorable living conditions with workers crammed into tiny rooms, and long hours working in the oven-like heat of the brutal desert sun. The horrid labor conditions were likened to slavery. (WATCH: A look inside Qatar’s labor camps)

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