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Amnesty report lambasts Qatar's treatment of household help from abroad

Amnesty International has issued a damning appraisal of working conditions for foreign nationals brought to Qatar as domestic labor. False promises on pay and conditions, physical abuse and rape were among the charges.

Amnesty International on Wednesday released a report saying Qatari authorities were failing to protect more than 80,000 foreign nationals, mostly women, performing domestic labor in the country.

The paper called "My sleep is my break: Exploitation of domestic labor in Qatar," documented what Amnesty called "shocking testimonies of violent abuse."

Women interviewed reported false promises on key issues like pay and working conditions, seven-day or even 100-hour working weeks, threats, physical abuse and rape.

"Migrant domestic workers are victims of a discriminatory system that denies them basic protections and leaves them open to exploitation and abuse including forced labor and human trafficking," Amnesty's International Global Issues Director, Audrey Gaughran, said. "We have spoken to women who have been terribly deceived, then found themselves trapped and at the mercy of abusive employers, banned from leaving the house. Some women said they were threatened with physical violence when they told their employers they wanted to leave."

Most of the roughly 84,000 foreigners working as household help in Qatar are women from either South or South East Asia, according to Amnesty's research.

Little legal recourse

The report criticized in particular that the domestic staff were not protected by Qatari labor laws, meaning there were no clear guidelines on key issues like salary, days off, and working hours. The Qatari ministry of foreign affairs sent a written statement to Amnesty disputing a total lack of legal safeguards.

"The exclusion of this group of workers from the scope of the Labor Law does not mean a lack of legal protection for their rights or that there is no law to protect these rights," the statement said.

In one of the more extreme cases highlighted by the rights group, a domestic worker said she "broke both her legs and fractured her spine" when she fell from a window trying to flee "a rape attack by her employer." The report said that her attacker then sexually abused her where she lay, before calling an ambulance, and that she was still using a wheelchair six months later. Under Qatar's highly conservative legal system, women seeking justice for rape can sometimes find themselves put on trial for violations of morality laws.

The report said women working in abusive households were effectively trapped.

"Women who find themselves in abusive households face utterly miserable conditions. They have few options - if they choose to simply get out of the house, they will be branded 'runaways' and are likely to end up being detained and deported," Gaughran said.

Qatar's treatment of foreign staff has come under particular focus as the country pulls in thousands to work on preparations for the FIFA World Cup in 2022; Amnesty

published a report on the issue in November

. But Gaughran said that the greater lack of legal protection for domestic workers, coupled with their isolation in their employers' homes, "leaves them exposed to abuse to an even greater extent."

Amnesty interviewed 52 women, government officials and the embassies of the workers' countries of origin, among other data, when compiling the report.

msh/dr (AFP, AP, dpa)

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