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Migrants Sue Qatari Employer for Holding Passports

On December 3, 2009

A group of migrant workers in Qatar has taken out a lawsuit against their employer for illegally retaining their passports, according to this story in The Peninsula.

The workers repeatedly asked their employer to hand over their passports, which they needed to carry out transactions in Qatar. However, the employer refused. It is common practice in Qatar for employers to retain their workers' passports, even though this is illegal. This is believed to be the first time that a group of migrant workers in Qatar have taken legal action against their employer.

Prominent Qatari lawyer Mohsin Thiyab Al Suwaidi gives his comments to The Peninsula in this article;

A company violating this particular clause of the sponsorship law is to be fined QR10,000, he pointed out, but clarified that he was not sure if executive by-rules to implement the new sponsorship law had been issued. But whether or not the bye-laws have been issued, he reiterated that the new sponsorship law was indeed in force. Otherwise, too, Al Suwaidi said Qatar’s criminal code forbids companies to retain the passports of their employees.

A passport is not an ordinary document. It is basically a property of the government which has issued it. Some moral values and importance is also attached to a passport, said Al Suwaidi.

This is a very rare case of migrant workers uniting to take legal action, despite the fact that passport confiscation is rife in the Middle East. Language barriers, lack of finance and anti-union laws mean that most workers are not in a position to take action against unlawful behaviour. However, if these workers are successful in their case, it will be a landmark ruling.