Volunteers, garbage collectors, waiters, taxi drivers: this is Qatar’s army of the faceless. They form the backbone of the country, but in everyday life they are supposed to remain invisible and work without complaints. Hired workers report false promises – and confiscated passports.
The World Cup final is just around the corner. Qatar and FIFA celebrate “the best World Cup ever”. The tournament is built by officials on the backs of workers from poor parts of the world for visitors who can afford the trip and entry. They are the backbone of this World Cup. But nothing falls from the laurels for them. You remain nameless. Unknown. An army of the faceless, which is also put off by the organizers.
Fans are smuggled through Doha by the Faceless. Headed to the stadiums. Drove to sights. The streetscape of the tournament is characterized above all by the armada of helpers at crossroads, football temples and in and in front of the underground stations. They often have to endure hours of extreme heat, show the way with foam fingers or endure the automated announcements from the megaphones in their hands every second. At first it was done with a lot of jokes, “Metro-This-Way” even became an internet hit.
After four weeks of the World Cup, however, the energy level has dropped. Yawning boredom reigns among the unskilled laborers who have to stay in the subway until three in the morning. Some people fall asleep bent over on a railing. “Metro This Way” chants are long gone. Stoically, however, the faceless ones (they are the only ones wearing masks in Qatar) continue to show the ways that everyone already knows.
Like the army from an action movie
A useless job now. But still better than a construction site, one or the other may think. Or as the street workers, who are also at the bottom of Qatar’s class society. They sweep away the dirt of the World Cup tourists. It appears sometimes before he could even touch the ground. Often late at night, so as not to disturb the upper classes, they cut the hedges and blast the lawn. The green that doesn’t exist in their area, in the misery of the industrial area. This section of the Army of the Unknowns wears orange, yellow, or blue work clothes, with dust and exhaust fume-proof cloths pulled up over their noses.
The army doesn’t like to talk unless it’s about orienting information. Fear of penalties and visa withdrawal, because many have been living in Qatar for a long time and are trying to make ends meet here. However, some people at the metro stations let it be known that standing around in the sun is not exactly fun. Again and again you can see them crouching in any shady spot. Others tell how they were hired specifically for the tournament but the payments came in too late.
More talkative are the staff at the food counter in the media center, with whom journalists come into contact the most. In fact, with their uniforms all matte gray, they look like the faceless army of a villain in an action movie. They do have a rather privileged position among the migrant workers in Qatar (Westerners with well-paid jobs in international companies are of course excluded), because most of them only came to the emirate for a few months to work. But they experience first-hand what false promises and exploitation mean, which plunge regular migrant workers in Qatar into unbelievable suffering.
“We were all shocked when we got here,” says Julia, who prefers not to reveal her real name, to ntv.de. Both the information regarding the nature of the job and the accommodation that they had received before their trip to Qatar were wrong. Others from the gray armada, who do not want to be quoted for fear of being fired, confirm this. They are all employed on temporary employment contracts, one of which is available from ntv.de at the W Hotel in Doha. “A luxury lifestyle hotel”, a 5-star hotel of the US group Marriott Hotels.
sleeping in “prison”
“They took us for a spin. During the job interviews, we were told that we would be working as waiters in real restaurants, such as the W Hotel, and could therefore make tips,” says Julia. “In the media center we now wipe tables and put food from the buffet on journalists’ plates. That’s not waiter service.” There are no tips, but many would have “relyed” on that and only because of this would they have accepted the job despite the low pay. Some of her colleagues have specialist training in the hotel industry and feel like they’ve been fooled. “We also have to wear this horrible uniform,” Julia complains, “this prison uniform.”
The workers from the media center also call their accommodation “prison”, the standards of which could not be better than those of the Marriott Group’s star hotels. When you visit, the first thing that catches your eye is the high wall that surrounds the new building complex. “The security didn’t even allow a colleague to leave the complex in the evening and locked the gate,” says Mohammed, another short-time worker in the gray army, who also prefers to remain anonymous. The three of you would share a small room and have little privacy. “Sometimes the whole house smells like a toilet,” he says. The toilets, there are six for every 40 people, were “only holes” at the beginning, later they had makeshift toilet bowls mounted on them. Photos of the workers prove this.
Mohammed found out about the job opportunity on Facebook, but accused the W-Hotel commissioned by FIFA of being “unprofessional”. “I have a bachelor’s degree in hotel management, but they didn’t test that at all. They’re totally disorganized and divide people with no managerial experience and people with table-cleaning experience.” He also heard from colleagues that they “had to pay agency fees so that they could work here”.
“Not perceived as individuals”
One day, Mohammed wakes up with food poisoning. “I couldn’t keep anything down, my pulse was down and I collapsed,” he says. “On the second day they took me to the hospital.” But when he does his billing, he sees “that they didn’t pay for my sick leave.” Complaints to the HR department brought nothing. The employment contract with the W-Hotel states that sick days are actually only paid after three months of employment. Mohammed’s contract only runs for three months. “They did it really cleverly,” he says.
“We are simply a mass of workers and are not perceived as individuals,” summarizes Mohammed. “We are invisible, unimportant.” Appropriately, they were quartered where Qatar’s centered the suffering of workers – and tried to hide it. Poverty, noise and dirt reign in the industrial area. “Even as a man, I feel totally unsafe here,” admits Mohammed. “Most women don’t even go out alone.” He knows that “the situation for the construction workers must be much worse” if he has so much to complain about. “It was a really bad experience here and I won’t come to Qatar again,” he said. Julia and others agree with him.
Some people don’t have a chance and have to come back because they can at least find a job in Qatar. For example Samir, a taxi driver from Nepal. This is his second time in the emirate. With an army of Uber and Careem drivers, he will ensure the necessary relief for the metro and bus systems during the World Cup. Especially before and after games, the tracks in Doha are jammed to the brim. But Samir just makes ends meet and can only put a little back. “I have to give most of the money to the company,” he says chatty. The daughter of the 28-year-old is ten years old. “I’m doing all this just for her, so she can have a better future.”
Disappeared among the Faceless
During Samir’s first stay, his passport was taken away from him by his company at the time. He was imprisoned for two years. Didn’t get a chance to leave the country. According to human rights organizations in the country, the kafala system, which Qatar has abolished on paper, has by no means been abolished in practice. At least: “This time I was allowed to keep my passport,” says Samir, relieved.
Finally, he inquires about a visa for Europe. That would be his big dream, he wants to be a truck driver there. Samir already has the driver’s license for it, but he knows very well that his chances are minimal. Then he drives on. And joins the faceless army again.