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Deception by employers wreaks havoc with migrants' mental health - Amnesty

On April 26, 2014

Deception by employers and anxiety about work are leading causes of mental illness among Qatar's migrant domestic workers, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

'My sleep is my break': exploitation of domestic workers in Qatar, published earlier this week, says that Qatar is failing to protect migrant domestic workers from physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers - and from forced labour.

Around 84,000 migrant women work as housemaids, nannies and carers in Qatar. Most are from South and Southeast Asia, and Africa.

Contract substitution (forcing migrants to take on work that is different from what they agreed to in their contracts) is rife in Qatar, and has a disastrous impact on the psychological well-being of migrant women, according to the report.

Officials at Hamad Hospital in Doha told Amnesty International researchers that around 30 migrant domestic workers are admitted to the psychiatric unit each year - a number that is greater than for women any other profession. Suicide attempts were the most common reason for admission, and doctors believe that deception about the nature of their employment in Qatar is a leading cause of depression and anxiety.

The report argues that it is not just Qataris that are guilty of abusing domestic workers, but expatriate families from range of cultural backgrounds too. A 26 year old interviewee reports being woken at 4:30am by her European employer on a regular basis to prepare breakfast and clean the kitchen, and being forced to work well in excess of the eight hours per day that she agreed in her contract.

The report also highlights issues including rape of female workers, the criminalisation of migrants' romantic relations while resident in Qatar, and the restrictive Kafala system, which gives employers an exceptionally high degree of control over the lives of employees.

Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Global Issues Director, said: “International attention on the 2022 FIFA World Cup has thrown a spotlight on the plight of migrant construction workers in Qatar. However, the complete absence of protections for domestic workers’ labour rights, and the fact that they are isolated in employers’ homes, leaves them exposed to abuse to an even greater extent,” said Audrey Gaughran.

“Promises by the government to protect domestic workers’ labour rights have so far not amounted to anything. Qatar must stop dragging its feet over this and guarantee domestic workers legal protection for basic rights immediately.”