EXCLUSIVE: Thousands of workers fired in Qatar’s capital ahead of World Cup

  • Buildings housing Asian and African workers have been emptied
  • Some residents gave two hours to leave the house
  • World Cup highlights Qatar’s treatment of workers

DOHA (Reuters) – Workers expelled from their homes told Reuters that Qatar has emptied housing complexes housing thousands of foreign workers in the same areas in the center of the capital, Doha, where visiting soccer fans will stay during the World Cup.

They said authorities vacated and closed more than a dozen buildings, forcing mainly Asian and African workers to seek shelter they could find — including bedding on the sidewalk outside one of their former homes.

The move comes less than four weeks before the world soccer championship kicks off on November 20, which has drawn intense international scrutiny of Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers and its restrictive social laws.

In a building that residents said housed 1,200 people in the Mansoura district of Doha, authorities told people around 8 p.m. on Wednesday that they had only two hours to leave.

Municipal officials returned around 10:30 p.m., forcing everyone out and closing the building’s doors, they said. Some of the men could not go back in time to take their belongings.

“We have nowhere to go,” a man told Reuters the next day as he prepared to sleep for a second night with about a dozen other men, some without shirts, in the autumn heat and humidity in the Gulf state.

He and most of the other workers who spoke to Reuters declined to reveal their names or personal details for fear of reprisals from the authorities or their employers.

Nearby, five men were carrying a mattress and a small refrigerator in the back of a pickup truck. They said they found a room in Simaisma, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Doha.

A Qatari government official said the evictions had nothing to do with the World Cup and were designed “in line with ongoing comprehensive and long-term plans to reorganize areas of Doha”.

“Everyone has since been rehoused in safe and appropriate housing,” the official said, adding that eviction requests “would have been executed with proper notice.”

Soccer’s governing body FIFA did not respond to a request for comment and World Cup organizers in Qatar have directed inquiries to the government.

“Ghetto Dump”

About 85% of Qatar’s population of three million are foreign workers. Many of the evacuees work as drivers, day laborers or have contracts with companies but are responsible for their housing – unlike those working for major construction companies who live in camps housing tens of thousands of people.

One worker said the evictions targeted single men, while foreign workers with their families were not affected.

A Reuters reporter saw more than a dozen buildings whose residents said people had evacuated. Electricity was cut off to some buildings.

Most of them were in neighborhoods where the government had rented buildings to house World Cup fans. The organizers’ website lists buildings in Mansoura and other areas where apartments are advertised for between $240 and $426 per night.

The Qatari official said municipal authorities are implementing Qatar’s 2010 law that prohibits “worker camps within family residential areas” – a classification that includes most of central Doha – and gives them the ability to move people out.

Some of the evacuees said they hoped to find places to live amid purpose-built workers’ housing in and around the industrial area on the southwestern outskirts of Doha or in the outlying cities, on the long journey from their jobs.

Vani Saraswathi, project manager for Migrant-Rights.org, which campaigns for foreign workers in the Middle East, said the evictions “keep Qatar’s glamorous and wealthy facade in place without publicly acknowledging the cheap labor that makes this possible.”

“This is deliberate isolation at the best of times. But evictions without any notice are too inhumane to understand.”

Some workers said they experienced serial evictions.

One said he was forced to change buildings in Mansoura at the end of September and then moved 11 days later without prior notice, along with 400 others. “In one minute, we had to move,” he said.

Muhammad, a driver from Bangladesh, said he lived in the same neighborhood for 14 years until Wednesday, when the municipality told him he had 48 hours to leave the villa he was living in with 38 other people.

He said the workers who built the infrastructure for Qatar to host the World Cup were turned away as the tournament approached.

“Who made the stadiums? Who made the roads? Who made everything? Bengalis and Pakistanis. People are like us. Now they make us all go out.”

(This story has been paraphrased to show that the apartment buildings being emptied are in the same areas of Doha where visiting football fans will be staying during the World Cup, in the opening paragraph.)

Reporting from Andrew Mills. Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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