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Migrant Workers In World Cup Host Qatar 'Enslaved,' Living In Squalor: Report

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After visiting labor camps near the Qatari capital of Doha, an international federation of trade unions has issued a blistering report chronicling the labor and human rights abuses unfolding in the host country of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Drawing on data from the Indian and Nepalese embassies, the International Trade Union Confederation estimates that 4,000 more workers could die before the World Cup gets underway in 2022 if the workforce grows as expected.

The group calls Qatar a country with only "a facade of government," and says that impoverished migrant workers from abroad are living in squalid conditions while beholden to employers who control their identification cards and exit visas. Working in "unbelievable heat" six days a week, such migrants are now dying in "unprecedented numbers," according to the report's authors.

"Grown men said they were treated like animals, living like horses in a stable," the report states. "Tragically a small number of Qatari power brokers have chosen to build the trappings of a modern economy off the backs of exploited and enslaved workers."

The report follows Amnesty International's call earlier this week for FIFA to address the apparent human rights abuses surrounding the construction of the World Cup facilities. An Amnesty representative said FIFA, soccer's international governing body, was "involved" in the mess "whether it likes it or not."

Back in September, the Guardian released an investigative report on the deaths of dozens of Nepali construction workers. At least 44 workers perished, half of them from heart attacks, between June 4 and Aug. 8 of last year, according to the report. The investigation found that many of the primarily South Asian migrants building the World Cup's infrastructure aren't even supplied with enough food and water.

On Friday, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the organization bears "some responsibility" for the squalid working conditions but came up short of saying it would intervene.

"We have some responsibility but we cannot interfere in the rights of workers," Blatter said, according to the AFP. "We are insisting that the responsibilities lie first with the state of Qatar and secondly with the companies employing the workers." Blatter added that he hoped FIFA "can help resolve this problem through football."

Detailing the conditions for migrant workers in Qatar more generally, the ITUC report said that workers are commonly supplied with salty water for cooking and bathing, and can be forced by their employers to pay deposits of $275 before taking vacation. More than 2,000 Indonesian maids are leaving Qatar each year due to abuses, the report states.

The union federation is calling upon Qatar -- and, through the pressure they can bring to bear, FIFA itself -- to abolish the kafala system, a form of sponsorship that bounds a foreign migrant worker to his or her host employer. It's common for bosses to confiscate passports or refuse to issue identification cards to keep workers captive, according to the report. ITUC is also calling upon Qatar to establish laws guaranteeing living wages and collective bargaining rights for workers.

"FIFA can make a difference by making the abolishment of kafala and the respect of international rights a condition of Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022," wrote Sharan Burrow, ITUC's general secretary.

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