The government increased its protection efforts by improving its institutional capacity to care for trafficking victims. In February 2020, after consulting two foreign NGOs on shelter best practices and SOPs, the government opened its inaugural trafficking-specific shelter designated for both male and female victims, which consisted of six refurbished villas for a maximum capacity of 200 residents, and signed an agreement with the Qatari Red Crescent Society to manage the shelter. The shelter was equipped with a health center, computer lab, dining facility, and laundry room, and had a budget of nearly $823,000 per annum. Since its opening, the government identified and referred 10 trafficking victims for housing and protective services there, compared with zero victims identified or referred to care the prior two years. The government-funded Aman Protection and Social Rehabilitation Center shelter continued to provide basic medical care, social services, psychological treatment, housing, rehabilitation, repatriation assistance, and reintegration for female and child victims of domestic abuse, including female workers who fled their sponsors. Aman provided adequate assistance to those who wished to return to their home countries after ensuring they were properly rehabilitated and protected. Aman had a budget of approximately $3.8 million annually. Victims had the right to leave of their own volition without supervision, although chaperones were on call in the event security was needed. Victims were also able to access the shelter even if their employers filed charges against them. Several foreign diplomatic missions ran all-purpose shelters for their female nationals, which an unknown number of trafficking victims used.
During the previous year, the government revised the national victim referral system to coordinate victim identification and referral efforts between government authorities and NGOs; the referral system included the provision of shelter, health care, and legal assistance to trafficking victims. Officials did not customarily use established protocols to proactively screen vulnerable individuals for trafficking indicators. The Ministry of Labor worked with labor-sending embassies to determine which cases it should refer to the new shelter. Some officials reportedly used an existing manual to identify potential trafficking victims, but law enforcement personnel and other government entities did not report proactively screening for any trafficking indicators among domestic workers, a vulnerable population typically isolated and mostly excluded from protections under labor laws. Several government agencies did not categorize the abuse of domestic workers as forced labor or human trafficking cases due to a lack of evidence or witnesses and therefore sometimes failed to identify victims; however, some domestic workers voluntarily left the country in lieu of filing complaints or pursuing charges against their traffickers. The government took several steps to prevent forced labor including: The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL), the lead Qatari agency for preparation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, began paying recruitment fees of company employees and continued throughout the reporting period. The government extended this practice to Ashghal, the government’s public works authority, and private sector companies started to incorporate it as part of the tendering of contracts. The quasi-governmental Qatar Foundation and the SCDL also published mandatory protective standards documents for workers, which injected workers’ rights into corporate social responsibility to provide contractual incentives to contractors and subcontractors to follow the labor law or risk losing lucrative, multiyear projects. The SCDL and other entities did not classify any workers specifically as trafficking victims from among these populations.
Systemic hurdles continued to limit victim protection and access to justice. The March 2018 Domestic Worker Law stipulated domestic workers were required to have government-verified contracts; to receive adequate employer-provided food, accommodation, medical benefits, one day off per week, limited 10-hour workdays, sick leave, return flight tickets once each year, three weeks paid vacation per year, and full end-of-service payments; to be guaranteed access to the new dispute resolution committees to resolve workplace grievances; and to be given allowances to leave their employers in cases of exploitation or violation of contract terms. However, enforcement and knowledge of the law remained very low, leaving significant vulnerabilities to forced labor among this population and victims without care or justice.
The government sometimes charged and deported victims for contravening Qatari labor and immigration laws. The Qatari legal system lacked adequate privacy laws to protect victims against potential retribution and often did not provide adequate assistance or protection for victims during legal proceedings. Victims who lodged complaints were sometimes the subject of spurious counter charges by their employers that resulted in administrative deportation proceedings. Officials reported “absconding” charges were not considered until after the resolution of existing labor disputes, though labor attachés and worker advocates noted in practice it was often difficult for workers to overcome the burden of such charges. Police often detained workers without legal status for immigration violations and fleeing their employers or sponsors, including potential trafficking victims. Police sometimes detained workers for their sponsors’ failure to register them or renew their residency documents as required by Qatari law. Authorities sometimes charged some potential sex trafficking victims with zina (sex outside of wedlock) and subsequently deported them; according to a preliminary UN report on arbitrary detention, Qatari officials allegedly detained 26 women as a result of this prescribed crime during the reporting period. The government generally encouraged victims to testify against their traffickers by providing free legal counseling, assuring their safety, and allowing them to pursue financial compensation. However, such protections were not offered in all cases, and many workers still opted to return home rather than remain in country to assist prosecutors in convicting traffickers. Through the MOI, victims could change employers in cases of violated contractual terms, such as employers not paying the victim or forcing them to work excessive hours. The government did not report how many victims received legal support or were granted transfer-of-employer approval during the reporting year.
In September 2018 the amir signed Law No.13 for 2018, which legally granted the vast majority of expatriate workers covered under the labor law the right to depart the country without employer approval during the course of an employment contract. In January 2020, the prime minister issued Ministerial Decision No. 95 for 2019 to extend the abolishment of the exit permit requirement to include expatriates whom the labor law did not cover previously. The beneficiaries of the new decision also included employees at government institutions and most notably, the vulnerable domestic workers populace. Employers in the private sector still have the right to designate as critical no more than five percent of their workforce, who require employer approval prior to exiting the country. During the year, MADLSA reported moving 2,157 workers to new employers after the initial employers failed to pay the workers on time. MOI also reported transferring 6,531 workers who suffered some form of abuse or violation of their contracts in 2019. Interior officials had the authority to extend the residency of a domestic worker pending the resolution of a case. The law states the complaining party can reside in Qatar pending resolution of legal proceedings. The government reported it did not deport those who faced retaliation or retribution in their country of origin.