Nepal earthquake victims' families prevented from leaving Qatar Fifa World Cup building sites to attend funerals

Exclusive: Strict rules, known as kafala, mean that many of the 400,000 Nepalese employed in the country have their passports taken

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The Independent Online

Tens of thousands of workers on the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar cannot get home to see their families and attend funerals in the wake of last month’s Nepal earthquake.

Qatar’s strict worker rules, known as kafala, mean that many of the 400,000 Nepalese workers in the country have their passports taken by employers and find it difficult to get permission to go home.

The international campaign group Avaaz has written to Qatari authorities demanding compassionate leave for workers with families affected by the earthquake; it has yet to receive a response.

Sam Barratt, Avaaz’s campaign director, said: “We’re calling for these workers to be granted amnesty to go home. They are working on World Cup related infrastructure projects. Qatar was built with Nepal’s cheap labour; the least they can do is allow them to go home and grieve.”

A Nepalese worker in Doha, who asked not to be named, said that his wife and children were now homeless: “My family lives in a village outside Kathmandu. Since the quake I have not been able to contact them… Two of my relatives in Kathmandu have died in the quake. My wife and two little children are sleeping on the road. I am desperate to go back… but I can’t leave because my employer won’t let me go. I can’t leave the job because I have to pay back the loan I had taken to get to Qatar.”

Some estimates have put the cost of Qatar hosting the World Cup at nearly £140bn. There have been widespread reports of dreadful worker treatment, with fatalities last year reportedly running at around one a day – though Qatari authorities say they hope to abolish kafala this year. Avaaz is also set to meet World Cup programme manager CH2M Hill, the US parent of British engineering group Halcrow, about improving conditions for workers in the Gulf state.

A CH2M Hill spokesman said: “We work with many NGOs and other companies in the industry and look forward to further engagement with Avaaz on this important issue.”