Watching the World Cup with Qatar’s migrant workers and hearing about their lives

Hundreds of people gather inside a cricket stadium on the outskirts of Doha. This is a plan for an entertainment venue with food and beverage stands, 5 football pitches and volleyball courts. The big screen shows the FIFA World Cup matches and the half-time shows Indian dancers.

Welcome to the “Industry Fan Zone” located in Asia Town, Qatar’s expatriate commercial hub. Qatar has a population of about 2.9 million, most of whom are low-wage migrant workers or foreigners. The number of citizens of Qatar is only 380 thousand. Asian Town is a shopping and entertainment complex near Labor City that opened in 2015 and is home to about 70,000 migrant workers helping with construction projects critical to the state’s World Cup.

Hundreds of thousands of workers are settled in this area of ​​Doha. Despite its important role in creating the World Cup, many fan zones in the city center where traveling fans settle are off limits to workers. This is because a Haya card is required for entry, for which registration is dependent on having match tickets.

Talked to many workers The Athletic said that he could not buy tickets for matches in Qatar despite the significant number of empty seats seen at the games. The ballot included a small number of tickets for Qatari residents costing 40 Qatari riyals ($11 USD), but they were not readily available for many workers. The higher brackets, with ticket prices rising to 800 riyals, are out of reach for many.

At first glance, the industrial ventilation zone is an uplifting sight. Men from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Kenya and Uganda live harmoniously, playing ball games, chatting and escaping from the daily grind. FIFA branding is on the signs and a message in English, Arabic and Hindi reads: “Thank you for your contribution to hosting the best FIFA World Cup ever”.

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However, a more disturbing picture emerges when the glossy shine is cleaned. A group of Kenyan workers tell how they left their country behind with the promise of greater opportunities in Qatar. They asked not to be named so as not to risk employment in the country. One of them is showing me the contract on his mobile phone. “We get 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275, £227) a month, as well as a food allowance of 300 riyals ($82) a month.” The food allowance is withdrawn as soon as the workers eat near the sleeping area.

Hostels (including their job offer) have four people in each room – sleeping in bunk beds, but according to a Ugandan worker, there are other hostels that sleep up to 12 people in one room. The other four-person rooms are shown in the pictures, with low mattresses in each corner, and one tall closet for each worker.

This Kenyan salary, if spread over 12 months, is £2,725 or $3,295 annually. This was reported by a Kenyan worker The Athletic he paid a Kenyan recruitment agency 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($818 or £676) to secure his place in Qatar, but the agency told him he would be earning twice what he was currently earning per month. He came here for three months to work on security during the World Cup, then committed to work for another two years at an international security company that employs workers in Qatar.

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“There’s nothing I can do,” she says in a low voice. “Most of us come here with debt right away because we borrow money to get a chance. I am completely helpless in this situation. I am afraid that if I complain, I will lose my job. But really, I need more money because I am here to provide a better life for my family. I try to send money to my brothers in Kenya, but that leaves me with almost nothing to live on.”

And a number of others The Athletic speaks, asks about life in England and laments how difficult it is to get a visa to enter the country, which he describes as an imaginary island of milk and honey. They ask to be in touch to hear more about England. They ask what they can do to get residency, if they need a sponsor, and joke about who they should marry.

A 25-minute drive from the center of Doha, this part of Doha has a very different demographic to the Doha that traveling supporters are used to during the first week of the World Cup in the city centre. There are very few Qataris in this neck of the woods, and very few men wandering around Qatar. Also, women are almost invisible because the workers are men and the zone is almost exclusively migrant workers. Not everyone who goes gets a low salary. Several IT technicians from India living in Qatar said they attended matches during this World Cup and enjoyed spending time with the Indian diaspora in the region.

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Qatari organizers of the World Cup argue that perhaps the industrial fan zone is a welcome gesture to the workers who have sacrificed so much to host the tournament. It is a matter of dispute between human rights activists and the State of Qatar, to count only those who survived.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino told the European Parliament that only three migrant workers died in Qatar’s World Cup stadiums this year, citing figures provided by Qatar. But Nicholas McGeehan of rights group FairSquare previously called the figure a “deliberately misleading attempt” as the eight stadiums represent just one percent of World Cup-related construction.

According to Human Rights Watch, the exact number will never be known because “Qatari authorities have failed to investigate the causes of death of thousands of migrant workers, many of them attributed to ‘natural causes’.” Nepal’s labor ministry says 2,100 of its citizens have died in Qatar since 2010 from all causes.

As Saudi Arabia’s match against Poland kicks off, the pitch is getting crowded. While the fan zones in the city center attract media attention, there are very few journalists and very few FIFA officials. There are Visitor Liaison Officers like Patrick from Uganda, who is a qualified teacher, but is on and off guarding migrant workers.

Within the industrial ventilation zone

The least generous interpretation of this event is that it represents a form of segregation, where low-wage workers, almost entirely of South Asian or African descent, are kept away from Qatar’s main event. It is wrong to characterize the harsh treatment of migrant workers as a problem unique to Qatar. For example, a Ugandan worker says he is in a WhatsApp group with compatriots in the Gulf region, countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and similar issues are happening there. As we speak, a friend of his from Uganda is writing to ask for advice on getting a job with a company based in Qatar. He responded by saying that he had heard that the company had consistently violated the labor laws introduced by the State of Qatar in recent years, and that workers were sometimes paid 1,000 riyals below the minimum wage. He said that for some, they are desperate to return home in their home countries, so they will take a reduced salary anyway.

In the fan zone, another 30-year-old Ugandan worker chats about football. He says England is his team because he loves Manchester City. We agree that Phil Foden will start the match. He has an 8-year-old daughter, to whom he sends money every month. He has dreams and aspirations. He wants to study finance and accounting, but the need to make money for his family in the short term always comes first. He has been living in Doha for three years. He lives in a room with three other people. His salary (also 1000 riyals) is a struggle. He says his dorms don’t have refrigerators and supermarkets are expensive, so trying to cut costs is difficult. The food served as part of her monthly food allowance is often very hot, she laments.

“I can do a tantrum, but not every day,” he says. “Sometimes life in the regiment, with its rooms, entertainment, food and work, seems to me like a prison.” Not everyone can say that. The Kenyan, who recently arrived, said he is grateful for the additional security training he has received since starting work in Qatar, which he believes will enhance his future opportunities.

I ask the Ugandan if he sees more future in Qatar than the World Cup. “I hope not,” he says, his voice still low. “There is no chance of progress here. I didn’t think there were opportunities for advancement because good jobs for Qatari citizens come first.”

She also says she doesn’t have much of a romantic life because she is surrounded by male workers and worries about getting close to Qatari women and offending them. “I think foreign tourists are not interested in a poor person like me,” he says.

With a smile, he leaves the fan zone and heads back to the dorm, getting ready for another week of work.

(Top photo: Adam Crafton)


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