Qatar's migrant workers wary of life after the FIFA World Cup

Interestingly, the world cup final on December 18 coincides with International Migrants Day and Qatar National Day.
Migrant workers inside the Lusail stadium in Qatar. (File Photo | AFP)
Migrant workers inside the Lusail stadium in Qatar. (File Photo | AFP)

DOHA: Rasheed celebrated Argentina's World Cup win by singing and dancing with dozens of other South Asian workers with a double landmark on his mind. Sunday was also International Migrants Day.

"Messi, Messi Messi," they chanted in a corner of Souq Waqif, the central market in the Qatari capital Doha where hordes of foreign fans have gathered throughout the World Cup.

"At first they laughed at us as 'fake fans' but I think they have come to accept us now," said Rasheed, who wore a t-shirt with the word "rights" written across the front. He could not give his full name out of fear of action by his Qatari employers.

Workers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka helped build many of Qatar's eight stadiums, and to fill them for the matches. India was one of the top ticket-buying nations.

But photo portraits of the workers who built the Lusail stadium where Sunday's final was held were taken down from its walls just before the tournament started. Few of the 88,000 people inside were from South Asia.

"It is very rare that we can come out and celebrate like this," said Shafiq, from the Indian state of Kerala, who celebrated while wearing an Argentina shirt.

"Normally we all stay in the worker zones. We all wonder what will happen after the World Cup."

Reform 'commitment

Labour rights have been a hot topic for Qatar, virtually since it was awarded the World Cup 12 years ago.

Rights groups say the death toll on Qatar's mega-projects has been under-reported and condemned the conditions endured by migrants who make up more than 80 per cent of the 2.9 million population.

Even some of the Gulf state's closest allies have sought reassurances that recent reforms will stay in place.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador at the United Nations who led President Joe Biden's delegation at the World Cup final, raised the topic in a meeting Sunday with Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

Greenfield highlighted the importance of the US-Qatar "strategic partnership" but also "encouraged Qatar to demonstrate its commitment to labour reforms and human rights beyond the World Cup," said a US statement.

Other ministers who have visited during the World Cup say they have given a similar message.

Qatar, which has also faced pressure over conditions for women and the LGBTQ community, has pointed to changes over the past five years.

It says that a minimum wage, ending a draconian labour regulation system and restricting work time in searing summer temperatures have made Qatar a leader in the Gulf region.

Labour Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri has insisted Qatar will stick to the reform path.

Rights groups have called for a special fund to compensate workers who died on Qatar's monumental building projects.

The government says a fund for stolen and lost wages has already paid out more than $350 million and can compensate for injuries and deaths.

FIFA has promised to give details soon of a legacy fund for this World Cup that it says will help workers in other countries. It allotted $100 million to a fund after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

No official events were held for the UN day for migrants however and rights groups have doubts about the future.

"This World Cup in Qatar will indeed be remembered for all the wrong reasons: as the most expensive sporting event ever – and the most deadly," said Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch.

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The New Indian Express