Foreign worker in Qatar: ′This is no way to live′ | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 11.05.2015
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Foreign worker in Qatar: 'This is no way to live'

Ahead of the 2022 World Cup, hundreds of foreign workers have died on construction sites in Qatar. A year ago the government promised reforms. But reporter Florian Bauer found out that little progress has been made.

There's not a lot of activity on the suburban streets of Doha. Occasionally an 18-wheeler or a car rolls by, throwing up dust. Otherwise it's calm in the industrial area of the Qatari capital. More than one-and-a-half million people live here, amidst factories, commercial sites, warehouses and remnants of the desert. There are worker camps as far as the eye can see.

Gastarbeiter in Katar, Baustellen der WM 2022

Dirty beyond comprehension: The guest workers' kitchen

This is home to the foreign workers who are remaking Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup. They come from Nepal and Bangladesh, India and the Philippines. But despite the large numbers of inhabitants, this is a depressing corner of an otherwise vibrant, modern country. Most of the buildings are grey. Unpaved roads cut through the dust. Most of the three or four-story barracks have no windows. It's not a place anyone would want to work, let alone live.

It's Friday, the one day of the week the workers have off, and I'm hoping to talk with some of them. It's the fourth time in four-and-a-half years that I've come to Qatar, a small country that is hoping to use its riches to become a major sporting nation. It's been a year since the government promised that it would reform the labor system, and improve the conditions of foreign workers.

The government pledged to end the "Kafala system," which requires employees to get permission from their employers in order to leave the country. That promise was made amidst international pressure after media, including DW, reported about the dire conditions on Qatari construction sites. Critics spoke of modern-day slavery.

Gastarbeiter in Katar, Baustellen der WM 2022

Conditions are so cramped they are almost beyond comprehension

16 people, 20 square meters

It was May 2014 when the Qatar Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs promised their reforms. My camera team and I back in Qatar to check on what, if anything, has actually been done for a German public-television documentary entitled "Football for Sale." I drive through the industrial area with no particular destination in mind. The streets here have no names - only numbers.

A barrack by the side of the road catches my attention. It's next to two brand-new, uninhabited buildings. When the workers notice me, they come running up. They're curious. So am I. They tell me that 300 to 400 people live in the three-story building. They give me a tour. The kitchen is tiny and filthy. There are far too few toilets, only ten for every 100 inhabitants, and many have no doors. There's no privacy here. Most of the workers who live in these barracks come from Nepal. They show me their quarters. 12 to 16 people exist in a space of 20 square meters. They've been living like this for two years.

"This is no way to live," says one of the Nepalese workers who doesn't want his name revealed. "The air-conditioning doesn't work, and that's with 16 to a room and 50 degrees Celsius in summer." Others tell me they've been forced to surrender their passports and can't decide for themselves whether and when they want to leave Qatar. These stories are basically the same ones I heard a year ago.

Baustellen in Katar

Foreign workers aren't even receiving minimum wage in Qatar

Prisoners of the system

What's more, the workers tell me they aren't receiving their full wages. They say they're being paid 700 Qatari Riyal, around 200 euros ($223), a month - well below the minimum wage of 900 Qatari Riyal agreed between Nepal and Qatar.

"The pay is bad, and we didn't get any money at all the first three months," the Nepalese worker tells us. "And we went into debt to be able to come here."

They are prisoners of the system. The workers here often send half of what they earn back to Nepal, where the money is enough to support a whole family. Yet little has changed in the conditions under which they work and live. The Qatari government seems to have understood that reforms are necessary but may have underestimated how quickly they could be put in place.

Decisions in Qatar - the richest country on earth in terms of per capita income - are made by a small circle of individuals around the 34-year old Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Insiders tell me that Qatari ministries have too few well-trained, experienced administrators.

The workers in the industrial area make the best of their lot, playing cricket or football in the dust between the barracks on this, their day off. The mood is relaxed. At least they don't have to work today. It's a moment of happiness amidst the desperation. It's then that my camera team and I are arrested.

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