Qatar built an entertainment complex called ‘Asian Town’ in Qatar and serves as a giant shopping mall, a multiplex cinema and an amphitheatre for musical shows But there are no high-end boutiques, no women … and no Qataris.
Asian Town,is constructed inside the largest labour camp in Qatar, on the outskirts of the capital, Doha and attracts around 950,000 people (every month) mostly men can gather there to eat, shop and stay away from the heat.
“When I came here in 2008, there was nothing but construction on all sides. After work we used to sit in the camps not knowing what to do,” said Dan Bersamin, a 35-year-old plumber from the Philippines. “Now Asian Town has given us some entertainment.”
Since most of the workers are from South Asian countries such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Philippines, ‘Asian Town’ built a 13,000-seat floodlit cricket stadium. Most of the migrant workers were quiet delighted and said “We are big cricket fans and watch most of the games here,” said Samar Sahay, 21, from Bangladesh.
For most of the migrant workers, this entertainment complex is affordable unlike the other malls of Qatar. “This is the cheapest place to shop in Qatar,” said Ahmed Refaat, the marketing manager of Asian Town. “The events and entertainment are all for free. The workers are so satisfied and happy.”
Though workers are happy with this development most are not happy as this seems to be a deliberate measure to isolate the workers.
“Asian Town is a popular facility with lots of entertainment and shopping options for people living in the area,” said Shabina Khatri, former editor of Doha News. “But such developments are also a step closer to segregating Qatar’s migrant worker population from the rest of the community.”
This isn’t the only measure the Qatari authorities have taken the city of Doha also has zoning regulations that ban migrant workers from staying stating that those are zones are strictly “family housing only” and as the number of workers have increased they have been pushed out into huge labour camps, often in remote locations, to make room for new developments in the city.
Even malls and other public spaces can’t be accessed by workers on weekends or holidays stating that those are days only meant for family and that the particular policy was adopted to protect women from mixing with migrant “bachelors” in a country where less than a quarter of the population is female.
“Public spaces can easily get flooded with men, making it uncomfortable for women, especially those from cultures where gender mixing is discouraged,” said Khatri. “Qatar is trying to resolve this issue by creating public spaces that workers can call their own, but many men feel excluded from society.”
At a very popular mall in Qatar within sight of the Khalifa World Cup stadium, security guards turned away single Asian men, beside a sign saying “Families only during Eid holidays.”
A young worker from Nepal stated “This is the first time I have come,” he said. “We came from far and spent a lot of money to visit this place, but they won’t let us in”
Most workers also don’t visit the glamorous malls cause they are heavily patrolled with police officers , “We mostly stick [to Asian Town],” said Yusuf Ali, 31, from Pakistan. “We don’t go to other malls or the other side of the city. The police are always trying to check our identification papers. Why should we go somewhere else and invite unnecessary trouble?”
Vani Saraswathi, the editor of Migrant Rights, who has lived in Qatar for more than a decade said “ The country has taken deliberate measures to dissuade migrants bringing their families with them, and then justify the ghettos and zoning regulations under the pretext of security,” Saraswathi said. “Time and again, Asian male migrants are kept away because they are ‘bachelors’, while the same wouldn’t apply to western or Arab single men. One can’t ignore the racial undertones.”
In a statement, the Government Communications Office said: “There is no law in Qatar discriminating certain groups from patronising shops or public places. Asian Town Mall was constructed to offer shops which sell goods that expats, living in Qatar, missed from home.