Qatar has razed apartment buildings housing thousands of foreign workers in the center of the capital Doha, where soccer fans will stay during the World Cup, workers who were evicted from their homes told Reuters.
They said more than a dozen buildings were evacuated and closed by authorities, forcing the mostly Asian and African workers to seek shelter, including a bed on the sidewalk outside one of their former homes.
The move comes less than four weeks before the November 20 world soccer tournament, which has drawn intense international attention to Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers and its restrictive social laws.
In one building, which residents said was home to 1,200 people in the Al Mansoura neighborhood of Doha, authorities told people at around 8pm on Wednesday that they had just two hours to leave.
Municipal officials returned around 10:30 p.m., pushed everyone out and locked the doors to the building, 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 with about 10 other men, some shirtless in the Gulf country’s autumn heat and humidity.
He and most of the other workers who spoke to Reuters declined to give their names or personal details 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 Sumaysim, about 40 km north of Doha.
A Qatari government spokesman said the eviction was not related to the World Cup and was designed “in line with the ongoing comprehensive and long-term plans to reorganize the areas of Doha”.
“All have since been relocated to safe and appropriate accommodation,” the official said, adding that requests for release “would be honored with due notice.”
World soccer’s governing body FIFA did not respond to a request for comment, and World Cup organizers in Qatar have referred inquiries to the government.
About 85 percent 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 housing – unlike those who work for large construction firms, who live in camps housing tens of thousands of people.
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 from which, according to residents, people were evicted. Electricity was cut off in some buildings.
Most of them were in areas where the government rented buildings to accommodate the fans of the Emergency. The organizers’ website lists buildings in Al Mansoor and other areas where apartments are on sale for between $240 and $426 a night.
A Qatari official said municipal authorities were enforcing a 2010 Qatari law banning “labor camps in family residential areas” – a designation that covers much of central Doha – and giving them the right to evict people.
Some of the evicted workers said they hoped to find a place to live among purpose-built worker housing in and around the industrial zone on Doha’s southwestern outskirts or in outlying towns far from their jobs.
The evictions “maintain Qatar’s shiny and wealthy facade without publicly acknowledging the cheap labor that makes it possible,” said Vani Saraswati, project director of Migrant-Rights.org, which campaigns for foreign workers in the Middle East.
“This is deliberate ghettoization at the best of times. But eviction without any notice is an inhumanity that cannot be understood.”
Some workers said they faced serial evictions.
One said he was forced to change buildings in Al Mansouri at the end of September, only to move 11 days later without notice, along with about 400 others. “We had to move in one minute,” he said.
Mohammed, a driver from Bangladesh, 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 building infrastructure to host the World Cup in Qatar had been sidelined as the tournament approached.
“Who made the stadiums? Who made the roads? Who did everything? Bengalis, Pakistanis. People like us. Now they are forcing us all to go outside.’