The European Parliament is expected to send a delegation to Qatar next spring after passing an emergency resolution condemning the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf state. The issue has come to a head as major construction work gathers pace ahead of the soccer World Cup in 2022, which the country will host.
In addition to the Qatari government, which has dismissed the resolution as "premature," MEPs are also looking to the world and European governing soccer bodies, FIFA and UEFA, for answers.
The center-right European People's Party (EPP) bloc, however, ensured that Thursday's resolution stopped short of calling for an end to the "kafala" system of sponsorship, whereby workers are tied to their employers and not allowed to leave the country without permission. This has led some, including footballer Zahir Belounis , to become stuck in Qatar.
"The European Parliament is concerned about the situation of the migrant workers in Qatar," the resolution said. "MEPs call on the Qatari authorities to stop detaining individuals for 'running away' from their employers."
It also noted that at least 500,000 more migrant workers are expected to go to Qatar as the World Cup preparation work accelerates, adding to the 1.7 million already there out of a combined-native-and-foreign population of just over 2 million. The resolution additionally called on FIFA and the European companies involved in construction work to ensure that working conditions are "in line with international human rights standards."
Ready for Talks
The issue hit the headlines last month when Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that 70 Nepalese workers have died since the beginning of 2012 after working in allegedly slave-like conditions on Qatari construction sites.
Despite Doha's criticism of the resolution, a spokesman from the Qatari foreign ministry said that it is ready for talks with Brussels. Those discussions will address the possible delegation, according to Green Party politician Barbara Lochbihler, chair of the European Parliament's subcommittee on human rights, which is also planning a hearing on Qatar. Representatives from FIFA, UEFA and the International Labour Organization (ILO) are set to join the delegation.
"Qatar takes the allegations that have been made concerning the construction sector extremely seriously," the foreign ministry spokesman said, adding that accusations about working conditions have generally been exaggerated. The government in Qatar has appointed the Anglo-American law firm DLA Piper to conduct an independent investigation, which has reportedly been given top priority.
The resolution sends an important signal to Qatar and to the footballing bodies, Green MEP Lochbihler said, and "highlights the fundamental flaws of (the kafala) system".
Lochbihler also called for FIFA -- currently led by president Sep Blatter -- to use criteria when selecting future World Cup host nations that take into account the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Blatter had said earlier this week that the matter needed to be addressed urgently, and Lochbihler said she was pleased he had now publicly acknowledged the human rights problems .
"It is not too late for FIFA and UEFA to at last shoulder their responsibility," Lochbihler said. "Together with the active support of its European members, FIFA must send a clear message to Qatar to take immediate steps to address the human-rights situation of migrants."
There was much controversy when Qatar, a small, desert state, was selected to host the 2022 World Cup, including allegations of corruption . Likewise, there have been concerns about infrastructure, the treatment of visiting gay fans and the effect of the scorching summer heat on players and spectators.