Low-wage migrant workers in Qatar beg for food as worries over coronavirus rise

Charity workers in Doha prepare food parcels for migrant labourers living under quarantine on April 16, 2020.
Charity workers in Doha prepare food parcels for migrant labourers living under quarantine on April 16, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

DOHA - Low-wage migrant workers are forced to beg for food in Qatar as the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic left many sick and unemployed.

In interviews with more than 20 workers, British daily The Guardian reported on Thursday (May 7) that many of these wage-earners expressed worries and fears of being suddenly left jobless, unable to go back to their own countries, with some forced to turn to their employers or charities for food.

"My boss says he has no money. How about my family in the Philippines? They need my money … How will I get food? There is no one to give us. Even my boss is not giving (any food)," an unnamed Filipino beautician, who was in Qatar for just two months before being laid off, was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

Another worker, Mr Feroz from India, said: "The company said they won't pay us for April but they would give us (some money) for food, but we haven't even got that … They gave us a tray of eggs and some oil a few days ago. That was all."

The oil-rich Gulf nation is reliant on the cheap labour of millions of foreigners, mostly from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse reported.

Many, who work as security guards, construction workers and janitors, live in squalid camps far from the region's modern skyscrapers and malls.

The Guardian said some of the worst affected workers are "live out" domestic workers from Nepal.

They work in private homes during the day but return to their own lodgings in the evenings. They refused to move in with the families they work for, citing fears of the virus as well as risk of being abused.

As a result, the workers claimed the company which employed them forced them to sign a document stating it is no longer liable for their salaries and since early March, each of the women had received only 100 rials (S$38.77).

"We don't have any money left now. We begged our supervisor for food and eventually he gave us some, but what will happen when its finished?" one of the women, who was not named, told The Guardian.

 
 
 

Equally vulnerable are undocumented migrant workers as well as those on "free-visas".

These workers rely on short-term or casual work, without a regular employer to provide food and housing, the report said.

A decorator from Bangladesh who is on a free-visa, said he has been jobless since mid-March and has exhausted all this savings to keep himself afloat.

"I am borrowing money from friends and relatives for food and rent. It's very difficult to carry on without work … I'm not afraid of corona. The problem is there isn't any work," Mr Saidul was quoted as saying.

The hardships faced by low-wage overseas workers was exacerbated after multiple coronavirus cases were detected at migrant worker camps in March, resulting in the government putting the areas in a lockdown to contain the spread of the virus.

To date, Qatar has recorded 18,890 Covid-19 cases and 12 deaths. The Qatari government announced easing of movement restrictions at the affected living quarters on Wednesday.

In April, a coalition of human rights organisations wrote to six countries in the Gulf, saying migrant workers, numbering about 23 million, are "increasingly vulnerable and exposed to significant health risks."

"This pandemic has further exposed their extremely vulnerable position, with many cases of Covid-19 being reported amongst migrant worker communities," said Ms Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East research director.

"While some governments made promising commitments to support migrant workers, much more needs to be done to ensure Covid-19 will not result in further human rights violations and greater suffering for migrant workers in these countries."