By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, April 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - South Asian migrants powering the construction boom in oil-rich Gulf countries are often illegally made to pay for their own recruitment, adding to hardships of poor working conditions and wages, according to an investigation released on Tuesday.
Millions of migrants seeking a way out of poverty by working in Gulf nations from Qatar to the United Arab Emirates must routinely pay fees that can equal a year's salary, U.S. researchers said in a report.
"Recruitment is not free," said David Segall, of New York University's Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, who co-authored the report. "Somebody does have to bear these costs, but that of course should be the employing company."
The findings come as conditions for construction workers from India, Nepal and Bangladesh in the 2022 FIFA World Cup host, Qatar, have come under scrutiny from rights groups who say migrants live in squalor and work without proper access to water and shelter.
In five fact-finding missions to the Gulf and South Asia, the researchers found workers are typically made to pay for their airfare from South Asia and their work visa - often at inflated prices.
Selling visas for profit is illegal in the six Gulf countries the researchers investigated. These are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the UAE and Bahrain.
But violations are rarely prosecuted and punished by authorities, their report said.
Bangladeshi workers paid as much as $5,200 in recruitment fees, according to the study, the highest price among other South Asian construction workers, who number some 10 million people in the Gulf.
In rare cases, construction companies took on expenditures to recruit their workers, the study found.
The fees had the effect of pushing already destitute migrants further into poverty by tying them to high-interest loans.
"These are people who are already desperate enough that they feel that they need to undertake this journey, leave their families in order to just achieve the possibility of economic success," Segall told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"For them to be in debt before they even start this journey is really an injustice," he said in a phone interview.
Reports of abuse against migrant domestic workers have prompted countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Indonesia to ban their citizens in recent years from seeking jobs in the Middle East.
The New York University report expands on the findings of an investigation conducted in Qatar and released last week, which concluded hundreds of Asian workers paid recruitment fees.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)