Pics: Qassim Rahmatullah & Salim Matramkot
By FAZEENA SALEEM & Raynald C Rivera
While all eyes are on preparations for the 2022 football World Cup, with a staggering budget allocation for development of infrastructure and tourism, single workers, who make up a large part of the country’s population, are being neglected, with no entertainment facilities for them.
Making up a third of the country’s population, single workers are left with nowhere to go on Fridays, the only days they can relax after a week’s work.
The Industrial Area, where at least 100,000 single workers are housed, and whose population is swelling as more and more labour camps are relocated there, offers no facilities where these workers can spend their day off.
The absence of entertainment facilities forces residents of Industrial Area to come to Doha to spend their weekends, when the city witnesses a huge rush of people; the Al Ghanim bus terminus, Grand Hamad Street and places nearby are swarming with single workers meeting up with friends.
The area also turns into a hub of hawkers selling pirated CDs of movies, among other things. While the authorities have conducted raids in the area, the business thrives, which is not surprising since the cheap CDs are a major source of entertainment for low-income workers in the absence of cinemas in the Industrial Area and the city’s outskirts.
A cinema in the Industrial Area closed down many years ago and is now being used as storage facility. Low-income single workers, especially Nepalese, conduct private film viewings in small venues, making money out of people’s thirst for movies from back home.
“I always look forward to Fridays to come to Doha because the Industrial Area is a very boring place. No malls, parks, cinemas… nothing. If I don’t come here, I just stay in my room, which makes me feel homesick,” said Romy, a Filipino who was one of the thousands of people at the Al Ghanim bus terminus yesterday.
He said he and his compatriot Abner, who like him works for a construction company, sometimes managed to sneak into their favourite malls, Villaggio and City Center, which do now allow single men entry on Fridays. If not, they just strolled around the souqs and the Corniche, he said.
Construction sector workers comprise a huge part of Qatar’s small population. A survey recently released by Qatar Statistics Authority says the number of people working in the construction sector has reached nearly 500,000. With big projects related to the 2022 World Cup fuelling a construction boom, this number is set to grow fast in the coming years.
“Many residents in Industrial Area work in the construction sector,” said Abner, adding that he, along with many other Filipinos living there, had to find ways to while away time and fight boredom, such as organising basketball tournaments.
Many of them, he said, had to save money to buy laptops to communicate with their families back home and entertain themselves.
“The company does not provide an Internet connection, so we have to chip in to avail of Wi-fi,” added Abner.
Going to Doha to spend their day off is a challenge for many single low-income workers living on the outskirts of the city.
“Many of the parks are limited to families during weekends, so we have nowhere to go,” said Raj, a labourer involved in the construction of a big shopping mall, which he thinks he would never be able to enter once it is completed.
“Malls impose ‘family day’ during the weekend, the only day for us to spend time with our friends,” he said, adding that there should be malls, parks or other places exclusively for single workers.
It is almost a year since a new commercial and entertainment complex for single workers was said to be near completion in the Industrial Area, but it is yet to see the light of day.
The project, the first of its kind for single workers in the country, was designed and planned according to the needs of this section of the population. Along with sporting, recreational, entertainment and commercial facilities, the complex would house a cricket stadium, it is said.
When it opens, the complex would have four cinema halls, space for some 385 commercial outlets including eateries, and an open air theatre where concerts, cultural shows, gatherings and other activities can be hosted.
“It’s good if they complete it soon, so we will also have all facilities and entertainment like other people,” said Mohamed Hasan, a Sri Lankan worker.
“We can’t go to malls, parks or other common places on weekends, and Friday is the only free day we have. The Gulf Cinema is closed. We can’t afford to go to other cinemas, so if they have an exclusive place for us, we will be happy,” he said.
Gulf Cinema is popular with low-income workers because it offers cheap entertainment, with ticket prices ranging from QR15 to QR25, compared to QR35 to QR45 in malls. Last week it was closed for maintenance, according to the operators, who did not announce a date for its reopening.
Many Industrial Area residents are looking forward to the opening of the commercial and entertainment complex, but it is not clear when it will open.
“Finally, we are hearing about a place exclusively for us. I hope it opens soon and they have reasonable prices. With a salary of QR1,500, I can’t afford to go to expensive places,” said Raju Bikash, who works in the Industrial Area.
“We are away from our families. After working the whole week, we would also like to enjoy our free day,” he added.
The complex is strategically located in the east zone of Industrial Area. Since it is close to the main roads leading to Doha, single workers from other places can easily reach the area.
Within the complex, roads have been paved and lit up, making it pedestrian-friendly. There is ample parking space near the theatres, stadium and shopping centres.
Cricket being one of the most popular sports among the large number of Asian workers here, the stadium being built is big enough to accommodate thousands of spectators.
Once it opens, the facility will help reduce the influx of single workers into the city on weekends, especially after the ban on housing single workers in residential areas is fully implemented.
The project is also expected to boost business in the area.