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

  • Buildings housing Asian and African workers have been vacated
  • Some residents were given a two-hour notice to vacate
  • The World Cup has put the spotlight on Qatar’s treatment of workers

DOHA, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Qatar has vacated apartments housing thousands of foreign workers in the same area in the center of the capital Doha during the World Cup soccer tournament, workers evicted from their homes told Reuters.

Authorities evacuated and closed more than a dozen buildings, forcing the mainly Asian and African workers to find what shelter they could – including sleeping on pavements outside their old homes.

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

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

Municipal officials returned around 10:30 p.m., forced everyone out and closed the building’s doors, they said. Some of the men were unable to return in time to collect their belongings.

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

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

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

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

“All are then resettled in safe and suitable accommodation,” the official said, adding that requests to vacate “will be made with due notice”.

World football’s governing body FIFA did not respond to a request for comment, while World Cup organizers Qatar referred inquiries to the government.

“CONSCIOUS GHETTO-ISATION”

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

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

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

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

The Qatari official said municipal authorities are enforcing a 2010 Qatari law that bans “labor camps within family residential areas” — a designation that covers much of central Doha — and gives them the power to evict people.

Some of the evicted workers said they hoped to find places to live in and around the industrial zone in Doha’s southwestern suburbs, or amid workers’ shelters built for the long commute from their jobs.

The expulsions “do not publicly acknowledge the cheap labor that enables Qatar to maintain its shiny and wealthy image,” said Vani Saraswati, project director of 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 to be evicted with little notice is unfathomably inhumane.”

Some workers said they experienced serial evictions.

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

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

He said workers who built infrastructure for Qatar to host the World Cup would be 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 trying to send them all out.”

(This story has been redacted in the main paragraph to clarify that the blocks of flats in Doha housing soccer fans during the World Cup are being emptied in the same areas.)

Reporting by Andrew Mills; Writing by Dominic Evans; Edited by Ken Ferris

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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