Alarm after Kenyan migrant worker Malcolm Bidali arrested in Qatar

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What you need to know:

  • Malcolm Bidali was detained after giving a presentation to a gathering of trade unions and civil rights groups on May 4, a coalition of rights groups said in a joint statement.

A Kenyan migrant worker and activist based in Qatar has been arrested and detained in the Gulf nation on allegations of violating its security laws and regulations.

Malcolm Bidali was detained after giving a presentation to a gathering of trade unions and civil rights groups on May 4, a coalition of rights groups said in a joint statement.

Mr Bidali has been working with various organisations on the rights of migrant workers in Qatar for the past three years.

“Malcolm is a security guard, blogger and activist, who has been vocal about the plight of migrant workers like himself and has written for a number of online platforms,” said a joint statement by, FairSquare, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre said.

“Malcolm has been on the frontline of the fight to reform Qatar’s labour laws.”

Activists' concerns

The rights organisations said Mr Bidali forcibly disappeared after sharing his experience working as a security guard in the Middle East country.

Mr Bidali, who had been writing under a pseudonym, was reportedly taken from his accommodation on the night of May 4 for questioning by the State security service.

On May 11, a joint letter was sent to Qatari authorities urging them to investigate the disappearance as a matter of urgency.

On May 12, the government confirmed that Bidali has been detained and is under investigation for violating Qatar’s security laws and regulations. However, the authorities have not yet disclosed his whereabouts.

“Despite our repeated requests to the Qatari authorities, we are still in the dark as to Malcolm’s location and the exact reason for his detention. We urge the authorities to disclose Malcolm's whereabouts and ensure he is protected from torture and other ill-treatment. Further, they must outline internationally recognised offenses against him and ensure his right to due process is fully respected, including ensuring he has legal assistance,” the rights groups said.

“If Malcolm is detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, he must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

The groups added: “We are extremely concerned for his well-being, and that he may have been detained in reprisal for his legitimate human rights work. If Malcolm is detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, he must be released immediately and unconditionally."

According to Reuters, "a Qatari government official, through the government’s communications office (GCO), said a Kenyan national was taken into custody on May 5 and placed under investigation for violating the country’s security laws and regulations".

“The individual retains all his rights under the law. All procedures of the investigation are being carried out in accordance with Qatari law,” Reuters quoted the official as saying. The news agency said the source declined to be named.

Exclusive footage depicts Kenyans in Qatar pleading for help

Bidali's story

According to Mr Bidali's blog, he arrived in Doha in January 2016.

After being jobless and homeless, he was introduced to the idea of working in the Gulf by a neighbour who had returned from the United Arab Emirates.

“I was fed up with where I was [and] the person I had become, and wanted a way out, which is why I welcomed the idea of flying to the Gulf, away from instability, judgement [and] lack. Anywhere was better than where I was,” he wrote.

Days after visiting a recruiting agency, Mr Bidali was called about a security guard opening even though he had never worked in that sector.

“The interview would require a resumé stating previous experience within the security industry, which I didn't have. That wasn't a problem as the agency would handle that. They fabricated CVs – from work experience right down to the recommendation letter, from an existing security company within my country (Kenya),” he said.

After the interview, he was among the lucky few to get a contract.

“I didn't really pay attention to the contract particulars. I was just elated at the thought of running away from my situation and earning some money - killing two birds with one stone. I signed the contract without hesitation,” he said.

Mr Bidali said he parted with Sh 140,000 that he used to gain clearance and leave for the job.

“We arrive at around 9 pm. The cafeteria is closed, but dinner was packed in advance. After eating, we wait for a couple of minutes then we are shown to our rooms. Although there are six people in a room, it's spacious. We settle in well and get some rest. In the following days, in addition to getting three meals a day, we each receive an advance of QR500 and go through orientation and training at the company's headquarters,” he said.

Protest letter

In his quest to fight for the rights of migrant workers, Mr Bidali raised complaints last June as the Covid-19 pandemic took its toll.

He wrote to different authorities in Qatar about their accommodation and living conditions.

The complaint stated that six people were crammed in a relatively tiny room, with three bunk beds, metal lockers and personal effects taking up a huge chunk of the space.

It added that the number of toilet and shower facilities fell short of the ratio stipulated by government regulations.

“There were over 2,000 of us in the labour camp,” he said.

“It was only after published my reflections that things changed for us. As I mentioned, on June 21 we were shifted back to the Industrial Area, back to the pre-Covid-19 situation. Two days later though, we came back to three people per room, single beds, bedside table with a small lamp.

“The extra space was instantly noticeable. On June 27, our client finally came to inspect, although we don't know what the findings were. Nevertheless, the change was welcomed by all.”

Many Kenyans in Qatar

Qatar’s human rights record has come to the fore as it prepares to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, especially over migrants' living and working conditions. Doha has introduced labour reforms aimed at addressing some concerns.

Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Kenya leads in the number of Africans working in the country, followed by Nigeria.

The number of Kenyans working in Qatar is estimated to be between 30,000 and 50,000 or one per cent of the country's population.