There are only seven weeks left until the start of the World Cup in Qatar. The closer it gets, the bigger the bow wave of protest becomes. A series of events organized by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in recent weeks entitled »Reclaim the Game« has also contributed to this – a nice little allusion to the »Reclaim the Streets« campaign, in which there was a global fight to reclaim public space. At »Reclaim the Game«, migrant workers from Nepal and Kenya who were involved in setting up the infrastructure for the World Cup in Qatar reported on a tour of nine German cities about their experiences and what happened to them when they addressed problems or even organized themselves in labor disputes.
Two of the Nepalese workers, Krishna Shrestha and Jeevan Taramu, who founded the Migrant Workers Network and even set up a secret counseling center for the Nepalese trade union Gefont in Qatar, only dared to go to the Berlin nightclub Crack Bellmer at the end of the tour, covered by sunglasses and their mouths -Nose protection on the podium. Taramu is officially on vacation and doesn’t want to jeopardize his contract as an electrician on construction sites in Qatar with his commitment. “I’m also going back because I want to continue doing my part to ensure that we workers’ rights are respected,” he emphasized. Shrestha, who had worked in the administration of an international fashion brand in Qatar, at least did not rule out a new job in the emirate and therefore wanted to protect himself from reprisals. Both workers from Nepal therefore also used pseudonyms.
Malcolm Bidali, on the other hand, appeared completely unmasked. The Kenyan worked for several years as a security guard in Qatar. In Berlin he appeared in the T-shirt of a FC St. Pauli fan club. The tour also stopped in Hamburg, and thanks to the cooperation with fans of the Kiezklub, the event was well attended. Several hundred critical football supporters came – and a few days later Bidali proudly wore the St. Pauli shirt because of the solidarity experienced there.
He has very different memories of the World Cup host country. »As a migrant worker in Qatar, you have no influence on whether you work overtime, whether it is paid at all, whether you can take the contractually guaranteed day off of the week or not. You live in a room with six, eight, ten, sometimes twelve others. The walls are damp, bugs live in the beds. You can hardly get out. And it’s hard to relax when someone is listening to music from their speakers, someone else is on the phone and someone else is watching TV,” Bidali told nd. But the worst are the legal effects of the kafala work system, which still prevails despite two major reforms in 2015 and 2020. »You have no freedom to look for another job, you have no freedom of movement, because your employer dictates where you live. There is no freedom of speech and you don’t even have the right to organize,” he says.
Bidali experienced all of these restrictions on freedom himself. Because after he had started to provide information about his working conditions and those of his colleagues on social media, he was arrested. The occasion was a blog he wrote about Sheika Moza, the wife of the former Emir and co-founder of the Qatar Foundation. Among other things, this foundation maintains the very respected Qatar University, and it is also involved in the World Cup with its own stadium. “I described the working conditions of the security guards of the Sheika: how they had to stand in the sun for a long time in the summer at noon, although at that time it is officially forbidden to work outside due to temperatures above 50 degrees,” says Bidali. His phone was then hacked by the Qatari security apparatus to identify who had published under a pseudonym. This is what data forensic scientists from Amnesty International found out. The organization then lobbied for Bidali’s release.
His story shows that the caution of the Nepalese union organizers on stage with him is justified. Krishna Shrestha also confirmed the continuing problems in the »nd« conversation. But he also acknowledges that a lot has changed due to international pressure since Qatar was awarded the World Cup. »The 2015 reform meant that you no longer need an exit visa from your employer to leave the country. The of 2020 introduced a minimum wage. That helps a lot of workers,” he said. At the same time, he criticized the fact that many laws were not implemented comprehensively or even at all: »When workers complain about the lack of wages, they are rarely successful. Most recently, 60 were deported to their home countries of Nepal and Bangladesh because they publicly demanded their wages.«
Shrestha expects continued pressure from professional footballers who will take part in the World Cup, but also from their fans: on their clubs, their associations and governments. They should then in turn demand an improvement in the situation of workers in Qatar. “It would also be good if those families who lost fathers and sons on construction sites and other workplaces in Qatar would be compensated. Money cannot replace the loss of life and the pain suffered. But they should at least get something,” he demands. “Almost every day we see coffins on the planes on flights home.”
A compensation fund from the world football association Fifa would be the minimum. Miriam Saage-Maaß from the European Center for Fundamental and Human Rights (ECCHR) proved that the demand for him is not futile, referring to a factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2015 fund,” she said at a second panel discussion.
But that wouldn’t be enough for Malcolm Bidani. “We need different laws. That’s why football fans in Qatar have to put pressure on them and advocate for improvements,” he urged in the hall. The St. Pauli skull on his shirt moved violently with every breath.
The workers rated their tour as a success. »It was very nice for us to feel that a lot of people were interested in our fate. We were able to talk to many people and find common interests. And I felt that respecting human rights is important to them: in Qatar and all over the world,” Shrestha summarized his impressions. Incidentally, he advised against a boycott of the World Cup. If this were to happen now, it would primarily be the migrant workers in the country who would have to pay for it, he fears. Pressure for change is the better means.