Dreams of wealth turn to dust for Qatari migrant workers

Dreams of wealth turn to dust for Qatari migrant workers
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Hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to Qatar in recent years to work on massive construction schemes as it ramps up its infrastructure ahead of the World Cup.

Intrigued by the prospect of earning more money than they could ever hope for at home, migrants make up about 90 percent of Qatar’s population of 2.8 million.

Most come from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines. Others are from African nations including Kenya and Uganda.

The Gulf state has faced harsh criticism over the deaths, injuries and unpaid wages of foreign workers.

Qatar has implemented major reforms to improve worker safety and punish employers who break the rules.

He also paid hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for lost wages and injuries.

Rights groups said the changes were too little, too late.

Ahead of the world’s biggest single-sport tournament, AFP spoke to migrant workers and their families in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines about their experiences.

Here are their stories:

– The son who lost his head –

Migrant work is often a family affair, and Sravan Kalladi and his father, Ramesh, built roads leading to World Cup stadiums in the same company.

But only Sravan returned to India. After another long shift, her 50-year-old father collapsed and died in the camp where they lived.

“On the day my father died, the chest pain started while he was working,” Kalladi said.

“We took him to the hospital… I told the doctors to try again and again to revive him,” the 29-year-old’s voice broke.

He said working conditions were “not good at all”, describing long hours and low pay.

His father, who was a driver, “went to work at 03:00 in the morning and returned at 23:00 in the evening,” he said.

They were among six to eight people living in a room at the camp, where “even four people couldn’t fit properly if they wanted to,” he said.

“We had to work in extreme weather conditions and the food we received was not good.”

The duo went to the Gulf state hoping to make a better life for themselves.

But after taking his father’s body to the southern Indian state of Telangana, Kalladi never returned to Qatar.

The unfinished house, with only one month’s salary as compensation from the company, is now a reminder of the family’s unfulfilled dreams and crippling finances.

For six years since then, Kalladi has helped return the remains of deceased relatives to other families in the Gulf countries – but now she wants to return to earn enough money to finish the house.

“We’re a company when we’re alive, but not when we’re dead,” he said. “We trusted them and that’s why we left our homes and went to work for them and they let us down.”

– Debtor –

The gleaming marble at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium, which will host eight World Cup matches, was partially installed by Bangladeshi mason Aupon Mir.

But he told AFP he returned home from four years in Qatar after running out of wages.

He said, “What a beautiful stadium! Unbelievably beautiful.”

“But the sad thing is that even though we were part of this huge beautiful construction, we didn’t get paid. My foreman took our time sheets and ran away with all our money.”

Mir left his home in Sreepur in western Bangladesh for Qatar in 2016, hoping to earn enough money to turn his life around.

He paid the travel expenses with the savings and loans he got from his father and other relatives.

He worked for an Indian construction company at seven World Cup stadiums, but was arrested and deported in 2020 because he did not have a valid work permit.

“I spent about 700,000 taka ($7,000) to go to Qatar to change my destiny,” the 33-year-old said.

“I returned home with 25 rials ($8). This is Qatar’s contribution to my life,” the father of two said in front of his home and teahouse.

“I dreamed of building a better house, living a better life, sending my children to better schools. But none of these hopes came true. I just accumulated a pile of debt and now I’m carrying the burden.”

Mir said that he woke up early in the morning, got on the bus and went to his construction site, then he would work for 10 hours in the scorching heat.

When he had no money, he would go without food for days, sometimes he would sleep on the beach when he could not pay the rent.

“We were sweating every day at work.

“Our blood turned into sweat to build the stadiums. But only to be kicked out without money and dishonor.”

– Builder –

Workers flocking to Qatar and other Gulf countries do so in hopes of earning far more money than they could ever dream of in their home countries. For some, these dreams come true.

Abu Yusuf, who asked that his real name not be used as he plans to return to the host of the World Cup next month, paid 680,000 Bangladeshi takas for his trip to Qatar.

He worked there as a driver, a construction worker and a welder, as well as at the fire station in the stadium for several months.

He said he earns about $700 a month and is “very happy” with his salary.

“They are good people. Many Qataris have helped me.”

A contractor stole part of his salary, but the 32-year-old praised the Qatari authorities.

He returned last month to the central Bangladeshi city of Sadarpur, where he was raised in extreme poverty by a single mother.

Now he is building a two-story house and with the money he earned from Qatar, he bought a new fancy motorcycle, covering the expenses of the family of seven people, including his mother and visually impaired brother.

A die-hard fan of Argentina, the welder wishes to watch a match at Al-Beit Stadium, where he works.

“It is a beautiful stadium. I was proud to be among the workers who built the stadium. I wish I could watch a match there,” he said, adding that he hoped to work in Qatar for another 10 years.

“I was treated well,” I said.

– Blind man –

Babu Sheikh, a Bangladeshi worker, fell four meters (14 feet) and fractured his skull at a construction site near Doha.

I was in a coma in the hospital for four months. When he came to, he was blind.

“When I came to, I could not see anything. “I asked my brother if it was dark. He told me it was bright. I couldn’t believe I had lost my sight.

“I had no idea how four months went by and everything happened.”

It took him 18 months to get out of the hospital with bills paid by his family.

Qatari authorities prosecuted his employer, but the case was dismissed and he received no compensation.

Sheikh often sits quietly in the courtyard of his house. Some days, his son takes him to the nearby market, or in the afternoon to a tea shop, where he chats with his childhood friends.

“I don’t want to live like this,” he said. “I want to work. I can’t sleep all night worrying about the future of my family, my son and my wife.”

The boy, now five years old, was born while in Qatar and the Sheikh has never seen him.

“All I want is my sight restored. I want to see my son. Does he have my color? Does he look like me?”

– Hungry and homesick –

In 2018, Filipino construction worker Jovanie Cario was deliberately imprisoned so he could eat free food in prison when his employer stopped paying him.

Kario, who has lived in Qatar for six years, said this is a common tactic among Filipino migrants struggling to survive.

Hungry workers would show the old documents to the Qatari police, who would lock them up overnight, feed them and then let them go.

“There was a lot of food in the facility,” Kario, 49, told AFP.

“When we were released and returned to our location, our stomachs were full.”

Kario arrived in Qatar in 2012, two years after the country was chosen as the host of the World Cup.

I have installed glass and aluminum panels in several construction projects, including the 80,000-seat Lusail Stadium near Doha, where the final will be held on December 18.

The monthly salary in Qatar was more than his basic salary as a salesman for Nestle products in the Philippines, and it increased as he stayed there.

He returned much of it to his family in the central state of Negros Occidental.

But there were times when his salary was delayed for months and he had to borrow from friends, relatives or moneylenders.

At the beginning of 2018, Cario’s salary suddenly stopped again. I continued to work without knowing that my employer was bankrupt.

Three months later, Kario was able to receive compensation from Qatar’s labor ministry and he flew home.

During the six years he was away, Kario said he saw his two children once. Although I was homesick, I wanted to save more money before returning to the Philippines.

“The body wants to go home, but the pocket isn’t deep enough,” he said.


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