In September 2013 reports of the abuse of Nepalese migrants working on stadiums for the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar, and the deaths of at least 44 of them, appeared in the Guardian, a British newspaper. The Nepalese government’s first response was to recall its ambassador to Qatar: the Guardian had quoted her describing the Gulf state as an “open jail”. Shortly afterwards, Nepalese and Qatari officials held a joint press conference in Doha at which they insisted Nepalese workers were “safe and fully respected”. Reports to the contrary were false and driven by “inappropriate targets and agendas”.
According to Martin Ruhs of Oxford University, the Nepalese government’s apparent lack of concern can be explained by looking at the interests of those involved. For all the mistreatment, Nepalese workers earn far more in Qatar than they could at home. Remittances make up a quarter of Nepalese GDP. If the Nepalese government were to insist that rules protecting migrant workers in Qatar should be enforced, Qatari employers might look for workers elsewhere.
In Gulf states and Singapore, where migrants have few rights on paper, the foreign workforce is huge: 94% of workers in Qatar were born abroad. Sweden and Norway, where migrants can use public services, claim welfare benefits and bring in dependents, admit relatively few purely economic migrants.
This trade-off is visible even within the European Union, where the recent accession of 12 relatively poor eastern European countries has sparked a debate about migrants’ rights to welfare. In January David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, clashed with his Oxford contemporary, Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister. Mr Cameron wants to be able to exclude recently arrived European immigrants from welfare and public housing. “If Britain gets our taxpayers, shouldn’t it also pay their benefits?” Mr Sikorski responded….
A UN convention on migrant workers’ rights which came into force in 2003 has been ratified by only 47 countries, most of which are net senders of migrants.
The abuse of migrants: And still they come, Economist, Apr. 19, at 54