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Dreams of wealth turn to dust for Qatar migrant workers

November 25, 2022 00:00:00

SREEPUR, Nov 24 (AFP): Hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to Qatar in recent years to work on giant construction schemes as it boosted its infrastructure ahead of the World Cup.

Drawn by the prospect of making more money than they could ever hope to at home, migrants make up nearly 90 percent of Qatar's population of 2.8 million.

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

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

Qatar has introduced major reforms to improve workers' safety and punish employers who violate the rules.

It has also paid hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for lost wages and injuries.

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

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

Here are their stories:

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

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

"The day my father died, his chest pain started when 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 said, his voice breaking.

The working conditions were "not good at all," he said, describing long working hours and underpaid overtime.

His father, a driver, "used to go to work at 3:00 am and come back at 11:00 pm," he said.

They were among six to eight people living in a room at the camp where "even four people could not sit properly if they wanted to," he added.

"We had to work in extreme weather conditions and the food we got was not good."

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

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

With only a month's salary as compensation from the company, an unfinished house now lies as a stark reminder of the family's unfulfilled dreams and crippled finances.

In the six years since, Kalladi has helped other families bring back the remains of relatives who have died in Gulf countries -- but he is now looking to return to make enough money to finish the house.

"We are the company's when we are alive but not when we are 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."

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

But he returned home from four years in Qatar with nothing to show for his efforts after being fleeced of his pay, he told AFP.

"What a beautiful stadium it is! It is unbelievably beautiful," he said.

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