Qatar flew home 10,000 workers who were victims of labor abuse during 2015, official government figures have revealed.
The number was released by Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs as Qatar announced it had abolished its controversial “kafala” labor system from Tuesday.
All the flights were paid for by the state, said officials.
Doha has introduced a new contract-based system for foreign workers from Dec. 13, which it says will give more protection to workers and safeguard their rights.
Under “kafala,” all foreign workers working in Qatar required a local sponsor, in the form of an individual or company, and needed their permission to switch jobs or leave the country.
Under the new system, workers will still need the permission of their employer to leave the country.
There are 2.1 million migrant laborers in Qatar, according to the ministry, from countries including Nepal, Bangladesh and India.
Many are working on World Cup infrastructure projects.
Qatar defended its labor law reforms on Monday after coming under criticism from Amnesty International.
A government statement rejected the Amnesty report and said it was continuing to review and adapt its laws to “ensure our approach to reform is fit for purpose.”
“We remain committed to the development of a labor system that is fair to both employers and employees alike,” the statement said.
“These new legislative changes, combined with ongoing enforcement and a commitment to systemic reform, not just in Qatar but also in countries of origin, will ensure workers’ rights are respected across the entire labor pathway.”
The Qatar government earlier said that the reforms would make it easier for migrant workers to change jobs and leave the country, bringing “tangible benefits.”
“The new law is the latest step toward improving and protecting the rights of every expatriate worker in Qatar,” Labour Minister Issa Al-Nuami said in a statement.
“We urge the international community not to draw any definitive conclusions until there has been time to see the new law in action.”
Japesh, an Indian construction worker waving traffic past a building site in Doha, welcomed the reforms but said he would wait to see if the rules were enforced.
“They (our bosses) told us before that things would improve but last month our passports were taken and our pay was delayed again,” he said.
Qatar is building hotels, a port, a financial district and several football stadiums linked by desert highways as part of a $200 billion construction boom funded by natural gas revenues.