LONDON: Migrant workers in Qatar have described being trapped in a coronavirus prison at the country’s largest labor camp.
The camp was locked down after hundreds of construction workers became sick with Covid-19.
Thousands of workers are trapped in filthy, over-crowded camps within the “Industrial Area” in Doha where the virus can spread rapidly, The Guardian reported.
The area is guarded by police, and workers who live there, many of whom had been working on Fifa World Cup 2022 infrastructure projects, cannot leave.
Qatari authorities on Tuesday announced the closure of several square kilometers of the Industrial Area.
Workers are fearful and there is an atmosphere of uncertainty.
Some workers have been told to go on unpaid leave until further notice, with only food and accommodation covered, sources at the camp told The Guardian.
“The situation is getting worse each day. Workers from camp 1 to camp 32 are in lockdown. My friends who live there are in extreme panic,” a Bangladeshi worker told The Guardian.
“We are not allowed to walk in groups or eat in a tea shop. But you can still buy food and take it home. I’m worried about my family back home. There won’t be anyone to take care of them if anything happens to me,” a Nepali worker said. He added that no one is allowed to leave the area.
On Mar. 11, authorities said 238 people under quarantine in a residential compound had tested positive for coronavirus. Subsequent announcements have linked most reported cases to migrant workers without mentioning nationalities.
Terrified workers are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of the disease. “We are doing everything to keep ourselves safe. The camp was a little dirty, so we cleaned everything, changed the bed sheets, and used spray to kill the germs,” a worker told The Guardian.
Although the country is on lockdown and has shut down almost all public spaces in the face of the outbreak, some construction workers who have not tested positive for Covid-19 say they are being forced to work after having just their temperatures checked before they begin.
Amnesty International said migrant workers trapped in camps such as those in Qatar are at particular risk of exposure to the virus.
“The Qatari government must ensure that human rights remain central to all attempts at prevention and containment of the COVID-19 virus, and also that all people have access to health care, including preventive care and treatment for everyone affected, without discrimination,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues.
Doha’s Industrial Area is made up of warehouses, factories and workers’ accommodation. It is home to hundreds of thousands of men who live in cramped and dirty conditions. Kitchens and toilets are communal, making it very easy for virus to be transmitted.
Expats make up the majority of the population in Qatar, and the government on Thursday said there were 460 cases in the country — the highest number among the six Gulf Arab states that have reported a total of more than 1,300 coronavirus cases.