Rights group raises alarm over migrants in Qatar

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Dozens of migrant workers hired to do construction work on a prominent skyscraper in Qatar are running low on food after working for almost a year without pay, a leading rights group said on Wednesday.

The allegations by Amnesty International add further pressure on the tiny but wealthy Gulf nation over its treatment of overseas laborers transforming the country as it prepares to host the World Cup in 2022.

Qatar and neighboring Arab Gulf states rely on millions of low-wage migrant workers, mainly from South Asia, to provide the muscle to raise high-rise towers, stadiums and other large-scale building projects. Although standards have improved in some cases, complaints persist about substandard conditions and abuse such as employers withholding workers' passports.

Amnesty alleges that more than 80 mostly Asian laborers working on two floors of the Al Bidda Tower in the Qatari capital, Doha, are still waiting for up to a year's worth of salaries from their employer for a project that finished in October. The tower is home to the Qatar Football Association.

Many of the affected workers come from Nepal, though there are also laborers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Nigeria, China and Bangladesh.

It is unclear why their employer, Lee Trading and Contracting, did not pay. Documents suggest the workers are owed about $412,000, according to Amnesty.

Company-provided payments of about $69 per month for food allowances stopped arriving in October, and some of the workers have complained of hunger, the rights group said.

Under Qatari law, foreign employees' sponsorship in the country is tied to their employer, meaning the workers could not legally find work elsewhere in the country. They are in legal limbo because Amnesty says LTC has not secured required residence permits for them.

The group's secretary general, Salil Shetty, urged the Qatari authorities to intervene in the workers' case, saying it would "signal that the government really means what it says about protecting workers' rights."

The company could not be reached by phone and did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Qatari officials couldn't be reached for comment.

Qatar has vowed to review working conditions for laborers after questions were raised about safety on construction sites. A report it commissioned on the subject is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Amnesty last month called on international football governing body FIFA to ensure an end to the exploitation of migrant workers, and warned that laborers face dangerous working conditions, poor accommodation and unpaid wages.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has expressed concern to Qatari authorities about laborers' working conditions following reports about human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch, another advocacy group, separately on Wednesday called on Gulf states to do more to guarantee workers' rights and urged the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to use its member states' collective bargaining power to ensure better protection for their citizens in the Gulf.

It said abuse of migrant workers persists throughout the wealthy Gulf Arab nations. The group highlighted the potential for abuse with the "kafala" system of sponsorship that ties workers' status in the country to their employers and for the risk of exploitation for female domestic workers in private homes across the region.


Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/adamschreck

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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