After a powerful earthquake killed more than 8,000 people in the Himalayan country of Nepal, many of its natives living in other countries were desperate to return home. The 400,000 Nepalese workers in Qatar, however, were banned from leaving the country.
Now, Nepal's labour minister is slamming both Qatar and FIFA for not allowing those workers to leave in a time of crisis. Many of those workers are currently involved in the construction of soccer stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
"After the earthquake of 25 April, we requested all companies in Qatar to give their Nepalese workers special leave and pay for their air fare home," labour minister Tek Bahadur Gurung told The Guardian. "While workers in some sectors of the economy have been given this, those on World Cup construction sites are not being allowed to leave because of the pressure to complete projects on time."
Qatar's working class functions in an oppressive system known as "kafala," in which workers are essentially the property of their employers. When migrant workers take a job, they must hand over their passport to their employer, which then controls whether the workers leave the country or not.
Ninety percent of Qatar's population is comprised of migrant workers, which has been decried as modern-day slavery by numerous humanitarian organizations around the world.
FIFA has come under fire for awarding a World Cup to a country whose riches are built on the backs of slaves. Despite the harsh criticism, the organization has made no effort to pressure Qatar into reform -- the kafala system remains unaffected.
Gurung laments that his complaints will likely fall on deaf ears because his country is not a world power.
"Nothing will change for migrant workers until FIFA and its rich sponsors insist on it," he said. "We are a small, poor country and these powerful organizations are not interested in listening to us."
Here is HBO's Real Sports reporting on the slave labor system in Qatar: