- The buildings housing Asian and African workers have been vacated
- Some residents were given two hours notice to leave their homes
- The World Cup has put the spotlight on Qatar’s attitude towards workers
DOHA, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Qatar has emptied apartment blocks 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 what shelter they could – including sleeping on the pavement outside one of their former homes.
The move comes less than four weeks before the November 20 start of a global soccer tournament that has drawn intense international attention to Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers and its restrictive welfare laws.
In one building that residents said housed 1,200 people in Doha’s Al Mansoura neighborhood, authorities told people they had just two hours to leave around 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Municipal officials returned around 10:30 p.m., kicked everyone out and locked the building’s doors, they said. Some men failed to return in time to collect their belongings.
“We have nowhere to go,” one man told Reuters the next day as he prepared to spend a second night outside with a dozen other men, some shirtless in the Gulf Arab state’s autumn heat and humidity.
He, like most 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 Sumaysimah, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Doha.
A Qatari government official said the evictions were unrelated to the World Cup and were designed “in line with ongoing comprehensive and long-term plans to reorganize the Doha area”.
“All have since been resettled in safe and appropriate accommodation,” the official said, adding that eviction requests “would be implemented with appropriate notice.”
World soccer’s governing body FIFA did not respond to a request for comment, and World Cup organizers in Qatar referred inquiries to the government.
About 85% of Qatar’s three million inhabitants are foreign workers. Many of those evicted work as drivers, day laborers or have contracts with companies, but are responsible for their own housing – unlike those who work for large construction companies who live in camps housing tens of thousands of people.
One worker said the evictions targeted single people, 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 are without electricity.
Most were in neighborhoods where the government had rented buildings to house World Cup fans. The organizer’s website lists buildings in Al Mansoura and other neighborhoods where apartments are advertised for between $240 and $426 a night.
A Qatari official said municipal authorities were enforcing a 2010 Qatari law banning “labor camps within family residential areas” – a term that covers much of central Doha – and giving them the power to evict people.
Some of the evicted workers said they hoped to find places to live amid purpose-built worker accommodation in and around the industrial zone on Doha’s south-west edge or in outlying towns, far from their jobs.
The evictions “keep Qatar’s glitzy and wealthy facade in place without publicly acknowledging the cheap labor that makes it possible,” said Vani Saraswathi, director of projects at Migrant-Rights.org, which advocates for foreign workers in the Middle East.
“This is deliberate ghettoization at the best of times. But evictions without any notice are inhumane beyond comprehension.”
Some workers said they experienced serial evictions.
One said he was forced to change buildings in Al Mansoura in late September, only to move 11 days later without notice, along with some 400 others. “In one minute, we had to go,” he said.
Mohammed, 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 have been pushed aside as the championship approaches.
“Who built the stadiums? Who built the roads? Who built everything? Bengalis, Pakistanis. People like us. Now they’re making us all go outside.”
(This story has been re-added to clarify that the apartment blocks being vacated are in the same areas in Doha where visiting soccer fans will be staying during the World Cup, in the first paragraph.)
Report by Andrew Mills; Written by Dominic Evans; Editing: Ken Ferris
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.