Exclusive: Thousands of workers evicted in Qatar’s capital ahead of World Cup

  • He emptied the buildings to house Asian and African workers
  • Some residents gave two hours’ notice to leave the house
  • The World Cup put Qatar’s treatment of workers in the spotlight

DOHA, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Qatar has evicted apartment blocks housing thousands of migrant workers in the same areas in downtown Doha where visiting soccer fans will stay during the World Cup, workers who were evicted from their homes told Reuters.

They said more than a dozen buildings had been raided and closed by authorities, forcing the mostly Asian and African workers to take what shelter they could – including a mattress on the floor outside one of the former houses.

The move took place less than four weeks before Nov. 20. The start of the global soccer tournament has drawn intense international scrutiny over Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers and its restrictive social laws.

In one building that residents said housed 1,200 people in Doha’s Al Mansoura district, authorities said at about 8 p.m. on Wednesday, people said they had only two hours to leave.

Municipal officials said that around 10.30 p.m. everyone was ejected from the closed doors to the building. Some were unable to return their belongings in time.

“We don’t want to go anywhere,” one man told Reuters the next day as he prepared to sleep on the second night with about 10 other people, some of them shirtless in the autumn heat and humidity of the Arabian Gulf.

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He, along with most of the other workers who spoke to Reuters, declined to give their names or personal details for fear of criticism from authorities or employers.

About five men were loading a mattress and a small refrigerator into the back of a pickup truck. They said they found it in Sumaysimah, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Doha.

A Qatari government official said the border is bordering on the World Cup and “in line with Doha’s ongoing comprehensive and long-term plans to re-organize”.

“All have since been rebuilt in safe and appropriate accommodation,” the official said, adding that the vacancy requests “were made with proper notice.”

World soccer’s governing body FIFA did not respond to a request for comment and referred inquiries to the government of Qatar World Cup organizers.

“GHETTO-ISATION DEVELOPMENT”

Around 85% of Qatar’s hundreds of thousands of people are foreign workers. Many of them find work as drivers, day laborers or have contracts with companies, but they are responsible for their own accommodation – unlike the tens of thousands of people living in the camps who are working to build the camps.

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One worker said that border individuals were targeted, while foreign workers were with intact families.

A Reuters reporter saw more than a dozen buildings where people were said to have been displaced. Some buildings had their electricity switched off.

Most of them were in neighborhoods where the government had rented buildings to accommodate World Cup fans. Organizers of the building’s website in Al Mansoura and other villages where they are advertised for between $240 and $426 per night.

Qatari officials have said that municipal authorities have enforced a 2010 Qatari law that prohibits “labor camps within family-friendly areas” – a designation that encompasses most of central Doha – giving them the power to move people.

Some of the evicted workers said they hoped to find places to live in purpose-built work accommodation and around an industrial zone on the outskirts of Doha’s south-west or in foreign cities, far from their jobs.

The evictions “keep Qatar’s glitzy and wealthy face in place without publicly acknowledging the cheap labor it can do,” said Vani Saraswathi, Project Director at Migrant-Rights.org, which campaigns for migrant workers in the Middle East.

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“This ghetto-ization is deliberate at the best of times. But the borders, with hardly any notice, are unfathomably inhumane.”

Some workers said they had experienced the limits of the show.

One said he was forced to change buildings in Al Mansoura at the end of September, only to be moved 11 days later, with no prior notice, with some 400 others. “Move in one minute,” he said.

Mohammed, a Bangladeshi driver, said he had lived in the same neighborhood for 14 years until Wednesday, when the municipality told him he had shared the village with 38 other people 48 hours before leaving.

He said the workers who built Qatar’s infrastructure to host the World Cup were turned away as if they were approaching the tournament.

“Who made the stadiums? Who made the trips? Who made everything? The Bengalis, the Pakistanis. People like us. Now they are all making us abroad.”

(This story has been confirmed to reveal that apartment blocks are to be vacated in the same areas in Doha where visiting soccer players will stay during the World Cup, in the lead paragraph.)

Reporting by Andrew Mills; Written by Dominic Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris

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