Dhaka: A new agreement between Qatar and Bangladesh includes commitments to establish protections for migrant workers, a top official said on Wednesday, as the Gulf state has been under harsh criticism over failing to safeguard the rights of laborers who constructed its 2022 FIFA World Cup infrastructure.

Migrant workers from South Asia, especially Bangladesh and Nepal, were indispensable to Qatar as it prepared to host the world’s biggest football event, and have been an important part of its economy. Some 350,000 Bangladeshis are employed by Qatar’s government, semi-government and private sector.

The jobs have enabled them to send remittances back home to their families, but many have reported contract violations and illnesses linked to unsafe working conditions. The problems entered the spotlight between 2010, when FIFA granted Qatar the World Cup, and 2022, when the event took place.

During the decade, seven new stadiums, an airport expansion, a new metro and hotels were constructed by 30,000 foreign laborers, according to the Qatari government. Rights groups and investigative journalists have estimated that more than 6,000 of them died in work-related deaths.

A new memorandum on Bangladeshi migrant workers — 80 percent of whom are employed in Qatar’s construction industry — was signed this week as Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, visited Dhaka.

“A joint working group will be formed for solving labor rights issues,” Khairul Alam, additional secretary at Bangladesh’s Ministry of Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment, told Arab News.

“Our Ministry of Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment will lead the joint working group from the Bangladeshi side.”

The agreement commits the Qatari and Bangladeshi sides to discuss “ways to develop legislation relevant to areas of labor” and includes plans for a review to ensure that worker rights are in place.

“Labor rights protection, safety and healthy environment issues have also been emphasized in the MoU, and mentioned several times,” Alam said.

“The agreement also said that in case of any issues regarding migrants both countries will sit together and solve the issues amicably.”

The signing of the agreement was welcomed by the Migration Program and Youth Initiatives of BRAC — Bangladesh’s largest development organization, which estimated that more than 1,300 workers from the country died in Qatar during the World Cup construction spree, with many deaths attributed to heart attacks.

“Most of our migrant workers prefer the Middle Eastern countries, and after Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman, Qatar is the preferred destination for the Bangladeshi migrants. In this context, such a type of MoU on labor employment is helpful for the protection of migrant workers’ rights,” said Shariful Hasan, the program’s associate director.

Hasan told Arab News it was an “expression of interest from both sides to ensure the welfare of the migrants,” who were playing a significant role in Qatar’s development.

“If the migrant-receiving country like Qatar focuses on the welfare and protection of the migrants, it will create a win-win situation for both countries. I think the signing of this MoU is a big development toward this.”


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