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

Inside a cricket field on the outskirts of Doha, hundreds of men huddle together. It’s a fun scheme with food and drink stands, five-a-side football and volleyball courts. A big screen broadcasts the FIFA World Cup matches, while the halftime break means Indian dancers perform.

Welcome to the “Industrial Fan Zone”, located in Asian City, which is primarily a trading hub for immigrants in Qatar. Qatar has a population of about 2.9 million, most of whom are made up of low-wage or foreign expatriate workers. The number of Qatari citizens is only 380,000. Asiantown is a shopping and entertainment complex near “Work City”, which opened in 2015 and accommodates nearly 70,000 migrant workers who helped with construction projects that were crucial to the state’s World Cup.

In this area of ​​Doha, hundreds of thousands of workers live. However, despite their instrumental role in the creation of this World Cup, many of the fan zones populated by traveling fans in the city center are beyond the reach of the workers. This is because entry requires a Hayya Card, with registration dependent on possession of match tickets.

Several workers spoke alongside the athlete They said they could not purchase tickets for the matches in Qatar, despite the large number of empty seats shown at the games. There were a few tickets available to residents of Qatar that cost just 40 Qatari riyals (US$11) at the ballot, but they proved out of reach for many workers. The higher categories, as ticket prices rose to 800 riyals, were out of reach for the majority.

At first glance, the Industrial Fan District is a sight on the rise. Men from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Kenya, and Uganda coexist in harmony, enjoy ball games, chat away and shelter away from the daily grind. FIFA branding is present on banners and one message written in English, Arabic and Hindi reads: “Thank you for your contributions to making the best World Cup ever”.

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However, remove the glossy finish and a more disturbing picture emerges. A group of Kenyan workers tell how they left their country behind with the promise of greater opportunities in Qatar. They ask not to be named so as not to risk their work in the country. One of them shows me his contract on a document on his mobile phone. “We receive 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275, £227) per month, plus a food allowance of 300 riyals ($82) per month.” The food allowance is essentially withdrawn as soon as it arrives as the workers eat at a facility close to where they sleep.

The dormitories (included with the job offer) hold four men in each room — they sleep on bunk beds — but a Ugandan worker said there are other dormitories that sleep up to 12 men in the same room. The other rooms of four men, as pictured, had a mattress lowered in each corner, with one locker provided for each workman.

The salary of these Kenyans, if spread out over 12 months, comes to about £2,725 or $3,295 annually. said a Kenyan worker the athlete He had 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 paid double what they were now paid per month. He is here to work on security during the World Cup for three months, before then committing to work for another two years at the international security firm that employs workers in Qatar.

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“I can’t do anything about it,” he said, lowering his voice. “Many of us come here with instant debt because we are borrowing money to get the opportunity. I am totally helpless in this situation. If I complain, I’m afraid I’ll lose my job. But really, I need more money because I’m here for a better life for my family. I’m trying to send The money is back home to my siblings in Kenya, but that leaves me with almost nothing to live on.”

He, like many others the athlete He speaks to, asking about life in England and bemoaning how difficult it is to obtain a visa to reach a country he paints as an imagined island of milk and honey. They ask to keep in touch to hear more information about England. They ask what they can do to get residency, if they need a sponsor and they joke about who they might need to marry.

This part of Doha, about a 25-minute drive outside the city centre, is a very different demographic than the Doha traveling fans are accustomed 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 in Qatari clothing walking around. There are almost no women in sight as the workers are male and this area is made up almost exclusively of migrant workers. Not everyone who attends is low paid. A few IT technicians from India who live in Qatar say they attended matches during the World Cup and say they would like to spend time with the Indian community in this region.

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The Qatari organizers of this World Cup would probably argue that the Industrial Fan Zone is a welcome gesture for the workers who have sacrificed so much to produce this tournament. This means only those who survived, with the number of deaths being disputed between rights groups and the state of Qatar.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino told the European Parliament this year that only three migrant workers have died building World Cup stadiums in Qatar – based on figures provided by Qatar. However, Nicholas McGeehan of the human rights organization FairSquare previously called this figure a “deliberate attempt to mislead” because the eight stadiums only account for about 1% of the construction work associated with the World Cup.

The exact figure will never be known, Human Rights Watch said, because “the Qatari authorities have failed to investigate the causes of deaths of thousands of migrant workers, many of which are attributed to ‘natural causes.’” The Nepali Ministry of Labor alone says that 2,100 of its citizens have died in Qatar from all causes since 2010, the year the World Cup was initially awarded.

As the Saudi Arabia vs Poland game gets underway, the stadium is getting busier. While the fan zones in the city center attract media attention, there are very few journalists present here and very few FIFA staff. There are some guest liaison officers, like Patrick from Uganda, who is a qualified teacher but finds himself caring for migrant workers in and out of the place.

Inside Fans Industrial Area

A less generous explanation for this event is that it shows a form of apartheid, in which low-wage workers, mostly of South Asian or African descent, are kept away from the main event in Qatar as elsewhere. It would be wrong to characterize the mistreatment of migrant workers as an issue unique to Qatar. A Ugandan worker, for example, said he is a member of a WhatsApp group with his countrymen spread across the Gulf region, in countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and similar problems occur there. As we speak, a friend of his from Uganda is writing, asking for advice about taking a job with a company based in Qatar. He writes again, to say that he heard here that this company does not always abide by the labor laws introduced by the Qatari state in recent years, which means that payments to workers were sometimes less than the minimum monthly wage of 1,000 riyals. For some, he explains, the despair of life back home is such that they will take the reduced salary anyway.

In the fan zone, another Ugandan worker, aged 30, is talking about football. He says England is his team because he loves Manchester City. We agree Phil Foden should have started the game. 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 earn money in the short term for his family has always taken priority. He has been living in Doha for three years. He still shares a room with three other men. His salary (1000 riyals also) is struggling. He explains that his lodgings do not have a refrigerator and that the on-site supermarket is expensive, so attempts to cut costs are complicated. And the meals he gets, as part of his monthly food allowance, are often very hot, he says.

“I can have some spice, but not every day,” he says. “Sometimes, with the austere chambers, entertainment, food and work, life seems a little more like what I imagine in prison.” It must be said that not every person feels despondency. A recently arrived Kenyan man is grateful for the extra security training he has received since starting his job in Qatar, which he believes will enhance his future opportunities.

I asked the Ugandan if he saw a future in Qatar beyond the World Cup. “I hope not,” he says, stamping his voice, too. “There is no opportunity for advancement here. I did not feel there were opportunities for advancement, because good jobs are a priority for Qatari citizens.”

He laughs sarcastically, too, that his romantic life doesn’t amount to much because he’s surrounded by male workers and says he’s worried about offending Qatari women by getting too close to them. “And I don’t think foreign tourists are attracted to a poor man like me,” he says.

He smiles, before walking away, out of the fan area, back to the dormitory, ready for another work week.

(top photo: Adam Crafton)


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