Qatar has evicted numerous apartment blocks in the capital city of Doha ahead of the commencement of the football World Cup. Thousands of foreign workers have been sent out without notice in order to make room for the football fans who will arrive to watch the football extravaganza that starts next month.
Reuters reported, citing evicted people, that more than a dozen buildings had been evacuated and shut down by authorities. This has forced the mainly Asian and African workers to seek what shelter they could - including bedding down on the pavement outside one of their former homes, the agency said.
"We don't have anywhere to go," a person said as he and his 10 friends prepared to sleep out for a second night.
The Qatar World Cup starts on November 20 amid rising international scrutiny of Qatar's treatment of foreign workers.
1,200 Residents Evicted in One Building
The agency said 1,200 residents of a building in Doha's Al Mansoura district were told at about 8 pm on Wednesday that they had just two hours to leave the building.
"Municipal officials returned around 10.30 pm, forced everyone out and locked the doors to the building, they said. Some men had not been able to return in time to collect their belongings," the report said.
Meanwhile, Qatari officials said the evictions were not related to the Doha World Cup. The said the evictions were designed "in line with ongoing comprehensive and long-term plans to re-organise areas of Doha."
"All have since been rehoused in safe and appropriate accommodation," the official said, adding that requests to vacate "would have been conducted with proper notice."
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Around 85% of Qatar's three million population are foreign workers. Many of those evicted work as drivers, day labourers or have contracts with companies but are responsible for their own accommodation - unlike those working for major 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 unaffected.
A Reuters reporter saw more than a dozen buildings where residents said people had been evicted. Some buildings had their electricity switched off.
Most were in neighbourhoods where the government has rented buildings for World Cup fan accommodation. The organisers' 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 have been enforcing a 2010 Qatari law which prohibits "workers' camps within family residential areas" - a designation encompassing most of central Doha - and gives them the power to move people out.
Keeping Glitzy and Wealthy Facade in Place
Some of the evicted workers said they hoped to find places to live amid purpose-built workers' accommodation in and around the industrial zone on Doha's southwestern outskirts or in outlying cities, a long commute from their jobs.
The evictions "keep Qatar's glitzy and wealthy facade in place without publicly acknowledging the cheap labour that makes it possible," said Vani Saraswathi, Director of Projects at Migrant-Rights.org, which campaigns for foreign workers in the Middle East.
"This is deliberate ghetto-isation at the best of times. But evictions with barely any notice are inhumane beyond comprehension."
Some workers said they had experienced serial evictions.
One said he was forced to change buildings in Al Mansoura at the end of September, only to be moved on 11 days later with no prior notice, along with some 400 others. "In one minute, we had to move," he said.
Mohammed, a driver from Bangladesh, said he had lived in the same neighbourhood 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 labourers who built up the infrastructure for Qatar to host the World Cup were being pushed aside as the tournament approaches.
"Who made the stadiums? Who made the roads? Who made everything? Bengalis, Pakistanis. People like us. Now they are making us all go outside."