Qatar is a nation of extreme economic stratification between rich and poor. An oil rich gulf state, Qatar’s economy is booming, with its GDP reaching a soaring $329.2 billion in 2016 – making Qatar the wealthiest Arab state. Despite this title, there are still unfortunately a large number of people living in poverty here. In this climate of extreme inequality, the question of how to help people in Qatar remains of vital importance.
This economic growth is coupled with a massive population spike, due to the influx of migrant workers needed to sustain the economic growth of the country. Migrant workers are estimated to comprise about 90 percent of the Qatari population, with nearly 60 percent living in what the Qatari monarchy officially calls “labour camps.”
This influx of migrant workers has been further exacerbated by the construction for the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup. Human rights groups have long condemned the working conditions of migrant workers in Qatar. Under the kafala labor sponsorship system, workers are dependent on their employers for their visas, living accommodation and even permission to enter or exit the country. Amnesty International has deemed labor conditions as “squalid and cramped,” while the International Labor Organization is launching investigations into the labor camps and systems surrounding the construction of World Cup infrastructure.
Qatar is an absolute monarchy, ruled by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. As an official ally of the U.S., diplomats from the U.S. have unique access to the small faction of the Qatari population that maintains control over the political and economic realities that the poor face. It is crucial that the U.S. uses its influence to advocate for the outrageous treatment of migrant workers, on whose backs the immense wealth and economic growth of Qatar is built.
USAID has already begun to answer the question of how to help people in Qatar, and are still working to implement a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding Cooperation to Enhance Global Food Security, signed in 2011. Dr. Rajiv Shah, then the administrator of USAID, signed the MOU, saying, “Both the United States and Qatar see food security as a development issue that must be addressed comprehensively and creatively.”
It is critical to the health and well-being of the impoverished Qatari workers that these goals be pursued. Moreover, resources must continue to flow to organizations such as USAID, which work to pressure the Qatari monarchy to provide a social safety net and adequate human rights for its subjects.
– Jeffery Harrell