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

  • The buildings housing Asian and African workers were emptied
  • Some residents were given two hours’ notice to evacuate
  • The World Cup has put Qatar’s treatment of workers in the spotlight

DOHA, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Qatar has vacated apartment buildings 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, workers evicted from their homes told Reuters.

They said more than a dozen buildings had been evacuated and sealed off by authorities, forcing the mostly Asian and African workers to seek whatever shelter they could – including sleeping on the pavement outside one of their former homes.

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

In a building that residents said housed 1,200 people in Doha’s Al Mansoura district, authorities told people at around 8pm on Wednesday that they had just two hours to leave.

City officials returned around 10:30 p.m., forced everyone out and locked the doors to the building, they said. Some men had not made it back in time to collect their belongings.

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“We have nowhere to go,” one man told Reuters the next day as he prepared to sleep for a second night with about 10 other men, some of them shirtless in the Gulf Arab state’s autumn heat and humidity.

He, and most other workers who spoke to Reuters, declined to give their names or personal details, fearing 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 Sumaysimah, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Doha.

A Qatari government official said the evictions were unrelated to the World Cup and were planned “in line with the ongoing comprehensive and long-term plans to reorganize areas of Doha”.

“Everyone has since been housed in safe and appropriate accommodation,” the official said, adding that evacuation requests “would have been made with appropriate notice.”

FIFA did not respond to a request for comment and World Cup organizers Qatar referred inquiries to the government.

“GHETTO PURPOSE”

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

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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 people had been evicted. Some buildings had lost power.

Most were in neighborhoods where the government has rented buildings to house World Cup fans. The promoters’ website lists buildings in Al Mansoura and other districts where apartments are advertised for between $240 and $426 per night.

The Qatari official said municipal authorities have enforced a 2010 Qatari law banning “worker camps within family residential areas” – a designation that covers most of central Doha – and allowing them to move people out.

Some of the evicted workers said they hoped to find places to live among specially designed worker accommodation in and around the industrial zone in Doha’s southwestern suburbs or in outlying towns a long distance from their jobs.

The evictions “maintain Qatar’s shiny and rich facade without publicly acknowledging the cheap labor that makes it possible,” said Vani Saraswathi, Project Director at Migrant-Rights.org, which campaigns for foreign workers in the Middle East.

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“This is deliberate ghettoization at the best of times. But evictions with little to no notice are inhumane beyond comprehension.”

Some workers said they had experienced serial evictions.

One said he was forced to change buildings in Al Mansoura in late September, only to be moved 11 days later without notice, along with about 400 others. “In a minute we had to move,” he said.

Mohammad, a Bangladeshi driver, said he 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 workers who built the infrastructure for Qatar to host the World Cup are being sidelined as the tournament approaches.

“Who built the stadiums? Who built the roads? Who built everything? Bengalis, Pakistanis. People like us. Now they’re making us all go out.”

(This story has been reposted to clarify that the apartment buildings being evacuated are in the same areas in Doha where visiting soccer fans will stay during the World Cup, in the main paragraph.)

Report by Andrew Mills. Written by Dominic Evans. Editor: Ken Ferris

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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