Qatar to house 250,000 labourers in new 'cities'

Doha (AFP) - Qatar is to build seven "cities" to house more than a quarter of a million migrant labourers building major infrastructure and projects for the 2022 World Cup, officials said Tuesday.

Ministers said all seven should be built by the end of 2016 and that the largest, "Labour City" for 70,000 people and complete with its own 24,000-seat cricket stadium, will begin housing workers in the next few weeks.

The move to construct more modern facilities comes amid continued criticism of the accommodation provided by Qatar for the vast number of migrant workers and with Doha admitting that sub-standard and illegal living conditions are still being used.

In total, 258,000 workers -- some 25 percent of Qatar's migrant labourer population -- will be housed, officials said.

Dr Abdullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi, labour and social affairs minister, told AFP the new accommodation centres were the "future".

"That's the blueprint," he said of Labour City.

"There are in the pipeline (several) cities around the nation. I know our people want to have better accommodation for their labourers."

Khulaifi added that Qatar has effectively doubled its number of housing inspectors to 300, and that should increase to 400 soon.

"We have labour accommodation standards and we are monitoring them and penalising those who are violating (the rules)," he said.

"Our business community knows we are taking it very seriously."

The cities, a mixture of government and private sector accommodation, will be built across Qatar, from the fringes of the capital Doha to one in the north.

Most will house around 28,000 workers.

Khulaifi said there was no final figure for how much the projects will cost.

However, Labour City, with 55 buildings including a mall, clinic and the second largest mosque in Qatar, cost 3 billion Qatari riyals ($825 million, 740 million euros) to build.

Most workers who will end up living there will be transferred from other accommodation centres in Qatar, but officials have said the number of migrant workers in the country will more than double to 2.5 million two years before the World Cup.

- Squalid conditions -

The scale of the housing problem is apparent just a 45-minute drive from where Khulaifi was speaking.

On a government-organised trip this week to existing compounds, workers in Doha's dusty Old Industrial Area were seen living in desperate conditions.

In one run-down camp, living in a cramped room housing eight people, where clothes were hanged to the walls and valued possessions were stuffed under tiny bunk beds, was Hassan, a new arrival from Ghana.

Along the vast, squalid corridor of tiny bedrooms was a filthy kitchen where labourers have to prepare their food.

A driver back home in Accra, Hassan said he had been duped into coming to Qatar to work.

"Our agent deceived us. He said we are being paid in US dollars but we came here and we are receiving the payment in riyals," said the 34-year-old.

Hassan, who has a wife and two boys to support back in Ghana, said he thought he would be receiving $900 per month as a labourer but instead receives the equivalent of about $250.

Human Rights Watch researcher Nicholas McGeehan called the plan to build new accommodation a "useful step", adding "we don't want anyone housed in degrading conditions that we still see far too often in the Industrial Zone".

However, he added: "Housing has never been identified as the major problem in Qatar, it's the system that's the problem."

"The problems are the mechanisms of control which place an inordinate amount of power in the hands of employers."