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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Opinion: How illegal is passport confiscation in Qatar?

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Passports

Following a recent announcement by the Ministry of Interior that would make it easier to report “runaway” workers in Qatar, human rights activist Aakash Jayaprakash weighs in about the message the statement is sending.

Jayaprakash, who was born and raised in Qatar, is currently pursuing his Master’s in Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He has worked on issues of migration in Qatar for about eight years, and was also a worker welfare specialist in Qatar Foundation. He also founded Migrant Support-Qatar, a civil society organization that provides relief to migrants in terms of food, advice in lodging complaints and other immediate needs.

To make it easier for residents to conduct government-related business such as securing exit permits, renewing their residencies and paying traffic fines, Qatar has been working to refine its e-government services.

It has also begun rolling out multi-lingual electronic kiosks through which workers can lodge labor complaints – an encouraging step.

But earlier this week, the Ministry of Interior announced that the government’s Metrash2 mobile phone app would now also enable sponsors to lodge complaints against “missing” and “runaway” workers.

In a statement, MOI explained that sponsors could save time and effort by electronically reporting such incidences, which would be instantly sent to the Search and Follow-up Department (SFD). Further, the Peninsula’s report states:

“Sponsors can also submit the passports of the absconding workers within 48 hours to the department.”

This direction implies that sponsors are already in possession of an employee’s passport.

If this were the case, it would be a contradiction to Article 9 of Qatar’s Sponsorship Law, which states:

“The sponsor shall deliver to the sponsored person his passport or travel document after finalizing the residence formalities or after applying for the renewal thereof.”

Holding on to an individual’s passport is currently punishable by a QR10,000 fine.

And in May, Qatar authorities pledged to increase this fine to QR50,000 for each instance of passport confiscation, in a bid to weed out the practice.

So this latest statement from the MOI raises many questions:

  • Is the sponsor expected to hold on to the passport of the worker in case they go missing?
  • Are sponsors allowed to ask for the passports of employees in case they are suspected of planning to “run away?”
  • If the sponsor reports an absconding employee and submits his/her passport to the government, would he/she be fined by the ministry for having the document in the first place?

Common excuses

The most common explanation I have come across by companies holding onto passports is that workers may lose them, so it’s a matter of safekeeping.

In many instances, companies have their employee sign statements saying that they have given permission to their sponsor to hold on to their passports.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But there’s another way.

Instead of retaining other people’s passports, companies can provide employees with a lockable storage area where they can safely keep valuable documents, including passports, employment contracts and ID cards (all which are required by Qatari law to be possessed by the individual).

Issuing governments also require that passports be held only by their bearer.

A crucial point

In instances of worker abuse, exploitation or human trafficking, access to the justice system here often requires the individual to have his passport or a copy of it.

The term “runaway” (which I am against for various reasons as I have articulated here) applies to situations in which workers in Qatar become undocumented after leaving their employers without informing them.

This has been a choice made by professionals, domestic workers and low-income workers alike. Many leave to pursue better financial prospects elsewhere, or because of job dissatisfaction, or to escape mistreatment at the hands of their employer.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But when individuals in Qatar are seeking to return home, things get can very complicated if, despite securing a flight ticket and an exit permit, they are unable to obtain their passport. This is not a theoretical situation, but one I have seen repeatedly.

Much of the discontent felt by “runaway” workers can be attributed to the current kafala system, in which employees do not have the freedom to switch jobs without the permission of their cur-rent employer.

However, the government has pledged to improve the rights of foreign workers in the country by making it easier to change jobs and obtain exit permits.

Still, it remains unclear when the proposed reforms will take place and what form they will take.

Thoughts?

24 COMMENTS

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Michael Stephens
Michael Stephens
6 years ago

I don’t even know why there is a debate about this in Qatar, the fact that this practice still goes on and I myself have seen numerous cases of it is illegal, no ifs, no buts. My passport clearly states that it is the property of the British Government, ergo, it is not mine to give away to anyone else except a border entry official, (certainly not my employer). The key is education, these workers need to be informed that their employer has no right to hold onto legal identification documents that belong to a foreign state. Whether it is done or not is another matter. Perhaps on entry the Qatari authorities could distribute documents in Hindi to this effect.

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
6 years ago

When I was still in Qatar I was at Immigration on Salwa Road on another matter. An Egyptian mandoob was walking around with a handful of passports to report ‘runaway’ workers. I asked the the immigration officer I was working with if anyone was going to charge the mandoob for the crime he was committing. The immigration officer looked at me like I was from Mars and clearly didn’t understand. I explained my thinking in more detail, at which point the immigration officer laughed and said that he had the passports of his maid and driver. I questioned why the immigration officer felt so comfortable breaking the law (I was in a bad mood, and may not have displayed the best judgment), at which point he became verbally abusive and I quickly finished my business and left.

If the training of the law enforcement personnel continues to be so weak today I have little hope for any enforcement of these laws.

osamaalassiry
osamaalassiry
6 years ago

The Egyptian mandoobs in my companies take the passports to process renewals, they are returned when it’s done.

It doesn’t make sense to keep everybody’s passport, it’s useless.

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
6 years ago
Reply to  osamaalassiry

Which is as it should be, but it isn’t.

Altaf Patel
Altaf Patel
6 years ago
Reply to  osamaalassiry

I am software engineer and when I enter to office of client, I have to
submit my passport to security cabin, but that’s till end of day in
office, when I go back from office, they return back it to me. so no issue.

Altaf Patel
Altaf Patel
6 years ago

I am software engineer and when I enter to office of client, I have to submit my passport to security cabin, but that’s till end of day in office, when I go back from office, they return back it to me.

Altaf Patel
Altaf Patel
6 years ago

well, its easy to put theories seating on the desk. but fact is that all workers have to surrender to company conditions otherwise company will not hire them and so they will lose opportunity to earn good money in gulf and will remain jobless, moneyless with miserable life in India or other Asian countries.

johnny wang
johnny wang
6 years ago

Interesting. Hope they also come up with something similar where employees and workers can lodge reports and complaints for mistreatment, abuse, non payment of wages, contract substitution, etc..against their employers and sponsors and wait in the hope that the authorities will act on them.

Ben
Ben
6 years ago

I was once told that if your maid, for example was to run away the police would then ask you for her passport. If you didn’t have it you would be liable for all costs (apparently this happened to a friend of a friend).

So if your maid was to leg is, you would have to pay out regardless of whether or not you had their passport! Some official guidelines / documents would be helpful to explain what happens if someone under your sponsorship was to run away.

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
6 years ago
Reply to  Ben

Yes, I encountered a similar explanation for the issue I was dealing with, the and corrupt Qatari sponsor said that he had to “protect his business” for just such a reason. I was told by an official that it was a common belief, but that it didn’t have any merit to it.

osamaalassiry
osamaalassiry
6 years ago

How did he explain it? It makes no sense… It’s a useless practice.

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
6 years ago
Reply to  osamaalassiry

Yes, makes no sense whatsoever, which is why I was so dumbfounded. The gist of his argument was that as soon as he handed the passports over to the authorities he no longer had any responsibility for the employees he had sponsored.

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
6 years ago
Reply to  osamaalassiry

Useless, and more importantly, illegal, and considered to be human trafficking just about everywhere…except Qatar for whatever reason.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
6 years ago

“And in May, Qatar authorities pledged to increase this fine to QR50,000 for each instance of passport confiscation”….
I really want to see Police getting into the houses/companies of those abusing their maids/workers check if they confiscated their passports and in that case, give them a fine….when? where?

freedom
freedom
6 years ago
Reply to  fullmoon07

that’s what the qatari officials should do , but it depends on the officials of qatar whether they want to change the mind state practically or just in words…..

Pete
Pete
6 years ago

Not sure how being in possession of an employees passport prevents absconding. Similarly, being in possession of ones own passport doesn’t allow one to abscond, so this whole issue is yet another example of the absence of logic.

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

I’m sorry I’m going to have to pick you up on this one

‘How illegal is passport confiscation of passports in Qatar’

I’m sorry something is illegal or legal, you can’t have degrees of illegal. ‘Oh, if we keep his passport it’s own slightly illegal’. That’s nonesense!

Ali Raza
Ali Raza
6 years ago

Companies in Qatar just harass its employees in the name of Exit and keeping passports. I recently resigned form my company and left Qatar. I had to face such hardships before leaving the country that I cannot imagine in my wildest dream. The company was of an Al Thani guy, who I cannot stop cursing. This was the third time I had to resign before they agreed to accept my resignation. They made me wait for a month (without pay) before they canceled my visa. Got my bank accounts seized, took my car the day they accepted my resignation and told me to go to clients to get balance confirmation, as I was into sales. I wish I had never worked for such B*****DS!!!

Remember to read your contract before you get into Qatar. I regret every moment that I was unable to take them to the labour court. Thats not all, they deducted some 10 thousand from my final settlement and dint even give me a return ticket with my family, even though I was entitled to it.

صـقـر الأسـود
صـقـر الأسـود
6 years ago
Reply to  Ali Raza

that’s quite a terrible situation to be in! I am glad that at the end, you were able to get out of it!

Altaf Patel
Altaf Patel
6 years ago
Reply to  Ali Raza

amazed that still you remember Qatar as background in your profile photo suggests ! 🙂

Ali
Ali
6 years ago
Reply to  Ali Raza

@altaf_patel:disqus, its just been a couple of days I left Qatar. Hopefully i’ll take a new pic and upload it. I cant thank my lucky stars enough, to get out of Qatar.

guest
guest
6 years ago

How useful is a passport if you can’t use it to leave the country? Exit permit needed.
Maybe totally necessary to establish your legal identity but should not be necessary if your embassy can provide alternatives.
Workers in crowded, insecure accommodation may be glad if their employer holds their passport securely!
A possible solution is for workers to register immediately all particulars of passport, contract etc. with the embassy or an alternative Qatar Government Agency. Everyone entering Qatar to work has biometric info recorded including photo at airport, blood tests, fingerprints etc. Why should not this be collated and anyone who does not have the actual documents in their possession be entitled for this information to allow proof of their status? The information exists and could be used to help people and not those who might abuse them.
Qatari’s often complain of workers cheating (particularly prevalent when Qatari ladies passports had no photographs (to preserve their modesty) and maids in stolen abayas departed, veiled w,h their employers passports and the family jewelry). however the case of the maid detained in prison for 11 months on a charge of stealing a jar of Nivea cream from the Qatari employer, only a few years ago, before the judge threw the case out on the grounds of triviality, demonstrates the sheer gulf in understanding of fundamental human rights principles which may exist both in employers and employees. I am also aware of the scams where maids “äbscond” before their sponsorship is legally completed only to rip off other employers with the collusion of the agency, Also aware that others will deliberately enter Qatar on a sponsorship and abscond on the grounds that they can earn more illegally. But crimes should be punished appropriately, let the punishment fit the crime, remember the desperate circumstances of desperate people.
In short, passport is a document originally provided to ask foreign Governments to help the holder, not a necessary proof of identity, if someone takes your passport in a country like Qatar, the necessary backup of immigration checks etc. should allow any document to be restored by the Embassy. But where’s the exit permit?

Ivan Brendieswski
Ivan Brendieswski
6 years ago
Reply to  guest

Your post, while thorough, is misguided. Passports are not like other documents, they are THE source of identity. The biggest error in your thinking though is this – keeping passports is a crime. End of conversation, there is no middle-ground. Why isn’t it enforced?

marklugo
6 years ago

Reminds me a lot of slavery… Especially when the term “runaway” is used. Sad to see that companies are still considered slave aka indentured servants OWNERS. This is exactly why capitalism is failing. Capitalism was supposed to give EVERYONE a chance.

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