This coming Friday, December 18, marks a global recognition of the overriding importance of migration. It is International Migrants Day.
Many international covenants and conventions and the recent Global Compact for Migration represent important international efforts to foster social justice for migrants. In this connection, showcasing some examples would be useful both to illustrate that global efforts are bearing fruits and to motivate others to follow such examples.
Coincidently, December 18 is Qatar’s National Day as well. This Middle Eastern country is home to about 2 million migrants, and they constitute more than 80% of its total population and 94% of the labor force, apparently the highest ratio in the world.
Qatar is the first country in the Arab Gulf region to allow the International Labor Organization to set up office. In cooperation with ILO, the State of Qatar has set milestones in reforming its labor sector in order to ensure decent living standards for migrant workers, protect the rights and privileges of workers, and uphold social justice in line with the objectives of Qatar National Vision and Sustainable Development Goals.
Therefore, a focus on Qatar’s social-justice system would be a good way to celebrate its National Day and International Migrants Day.
In its preamble, the ILO says, “Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.”
Simply put, social justice is the equal access to health, economy, opportunities and privileges of the people within a society. This simple definition indicates the link between social justice and rule of law.
Said another way, it is also based upon the premise that society follows the rule of law, which is the cornerstone of good governance. Rule of law has two clear inherent meanings: equality of people in the eye of law and equal protection before law.
Qatar has come up with some ideas and steps to ensure justice to the migrant workers. First, it introduced a time-bound grievance-redress mechanism.
Second, workers have easy access to the justice process. The State Court has appointed translators of different languages. Public prosecutors have been appointed who are responsible for helping both parties in a dispute.
The chief prosecutor of residency affairs has been vested with power to dispose of complaints before forwarding them to the court and thus provide swift justice to victims. Numerous examples are worth mentioning here.
First, a Bangladeshi migrant who had worked in the same Qatari company for almost two decades was terminated and not paid a penny as service benefit.
He went through the grievance-redress mechanism by submitting a complaint to the Labor Department, which was handled through the Dispute Settlement Committee and Supreme Judicial Council. The company was ordered by the court to pay his service benefits and dismissed the firm’s complaints against him. Three months after the court order, the company paid what he was due.
Second, the sponsor of another Bangladeshi filed a runaway case against him. He applied to the Bangladeshi Embassy for vacation his runaway case and also to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the company so as to change his sponsorship. Accordingly, the embassy forwarded his application to the chief prosecutor for residency affairs.
After careful investigation, the chief prosecutor dismissed the runaway case, pardoned the 12,000 rial (US$3,295) penalty and directed the sponsor to provide him the NOC. The worker later changed his company and got a residency card (QID).
Third, in an extreme case, a sponsor demanded money from a Bangladeshi worker for preparing a QID. As he did not comply with the request, the sponsor lodged a runaway case against him. The embassy wrote a letter to the chief prosecutor for residency affairs to ensure justice. The chief prosecutor investigated, held a hearing and dismissed the case.
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided countries with an opportunity to show their zeal for ensuring social justice. Qatar has stood out in that regard by providing free health care for those infected by the virus according to the best international standards. The country has provided treatment to everyone irrespective of nationality and immigration status.
Moreover, the country has treated both Qataris and non-Qataris equally. For example, a middle-aged laborer walked into an emergency room with flu and cough symptoms. He was admitted to the hospital after he tested Covid-positive. As his condition worsened and he started requiring oxygen, he was admitted to an intensive-care unit and kept on ventilator support.
As his condition continued to worsen in spite of maximum ventilator support, he was started on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. ECMO uses a complex machine that does the work of the heart and lungs externally and allows the patient’s body to rest. It is a very expensive machine requiring high maintenance and operating costs.
The patient eventually improved clinically, recovered from Covid-19 and walked out of the hospital after a total length of stay of one and a half months without paying a penny. A Qatari citizen wouldn’t get much more more support than this because that was the highest level of treatment for Covid-19 patients.
To conclude, the Permanent Constitution of the State of Qatar is a prime exemplar of social justice and rule of law, including for migrants. For its part, the Bangladeshi Embassy has always stood with migrants by attracting the attention of the competent authorities about the issues faced by these people.