Reportage

Desperate lives in Qatar’s labour camps

Doha, Qatar — In a dusty street on the shabby outskirts of Doha, men crowd around makeshift stalls selling pallid fruit and withered vegetables.

It is a blazing hot Friday morning and conversations in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and Nepali intermingle as Qatar’s migrant labourers take advantage of their only free time of the week to shop for groceries, meet friends and rest aching bodies after 70-hour-plus working weeks on the ubiquitous construction sites of the ambitious Gulf state.

The Industrial Area, where many of the crowded labour camps accommodating this ever-expanding workforce are located, is a few miles and a far cry from the glass, steel and gaudy neon seafront towers that have become the airbrushed postcard image of Qatar’s gas boom-fuelled transformation into one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential nations.

Broken mechanical machinery, smashed-up vehicles, pot-holed roads, fetid rubbish heaps and piles of rubble as high as the surrounding low-rise dormitory buildings, ringed by washing lines of faded blue overalls, give this dense grid of streets the feel of a place where the human spirit has also been crushed.

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