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

  • The buildings that housed the Asian and African workers were vacated
  • Some residents were warned to leave after two hours
  • The World Cup has put Qatar’s treatment of workers in the spotlight

DOHA, Oct 28 (Reuters) – The Qatari capital, Doha, has vacated apartment buildings housing thousands of foreign workers in areas where football fans flock during the World Cup, evicted workers told Reuters.

Authorities evacuated and sealed off more than a dozen buildings, they said, forcing mostly Asian and African workers to seek shelter, including sleeping on the sidewalk outside one of the former homes.

The move comes less than four weeks before the start of the world soccer tournament on November 20, when Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers and its restrictive social laws have come under intense international scrutiny.

In one of the 1,200-person buildings in Doha’s Al Mansoura district, authorities told people at 8 p.m. on Wednesday that they had only two hours left.

Municipal officials returned around 10:30 p.m., kicked everyone out and locked the building’s doors, they said. Some men did not arrive on time and did not receive their belongings.

“We don’t have anywhere to go,” one man told Reuters the next day as he prepared to sleep for a second night with about 10 others, some of them wearing shirts to brave the autumn heat and humidity of the Gulf Arab state.

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

Nearby, five men were loading a mattress and a small cooler into the back of a truck. They said they found a room in Sumaysima, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Doha.

A Qatari government official said the relocation was not related to the World Cup and was designed “in line with the ongoing comprehensive and long-term plans to reorganize the areas of Doha”.

“All have since been accommodated in safe and suitable accommodation,” the official said, adding that release requests would be “accomplished with due notice”.

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

“DESIGNATED GHETTOS”

About 85% of Qatar’s population of three million are foreign workers. Many of the displaced work as drivers, day laborers or contract companies, but are responsible for their own housing, unlike those who work for large construction firms living in camps where tens of thousands of people live.

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

A Reuters reporter saw more than a dozen buildings where residents said they had been evacuated. Electricity has been cut off in some buildings.

Most were in neighborhoods where the government leased buildings for World Cup fans. The organizers’ website lists buildings in Al Mansoura and other neighborhoods where apartments are advertised for $240 to $426 a night.

According to a Qatari official, municipal authorities are enforcing a 2010 Qatari law that banned “worker camps in family settlements” – a label that covers central Doha – and gave them the right to evict people.

Some of the displaced workers said they were hoping to find a place to live in purpose-built worker housing in and around the industrial zone on the southwestern outskirts of Doha or in outlying cities.

Vani Saraswati, project director of Migrant-Rights.org, which campaigns for foreign workers in the Middle East, said the relocation “supports Qatar’s glitzy and wealthy facade, thanks to which it has cheap labor.”

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“At best it’s deliberate ghettoization. But eviction without warning is inhumane.”

Some workers reported experiencing serial evictions.

One of them said he was forced to change buildings in Al Mansoor in late September, but was moved without warning 11 days later, along with about 400 others. “Within a minute we had to move,” he said.

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

He said the workers who built the infrastructure for Qatar to host the World Cup are being pushed aside as the tournament approaches.

“Who built the stadiums? Who built the roads? Who built everything? Bengalis, Pakistanis. People like us. Now we’re all being kicked out.”

(This story has been refiled, in the lead paragraph, to clarify that the high-rise buildings in Doha are vacated in areas where soccer fans stay during the World Cup.)

Report by Andrew Mills; Written by Dominic Evans; Edited by Ken Ferris

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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