Why Is Qatar’s Plan For Family-Only Mall Days Prompting Criticism?

Qatar is planning to introduce family-only days at major shopping malls, a move that could restrict access for foreign laborers a majority of whom are there without families.

Qatar is planning to introduce family-only days at major shopping malls during weekends.

The Central Municipal Council (CMC) says the presence of a large number of single laborers makes families uncomfortable, especially women, according to a report in Gulf Times.

While it seems like an innocuous plan, it is prompting criticism from human rights group who believe the proposal racially profiles the country’s foreign labor workforce.

“Qatar is a family-based society, and it is the right of families to have a day especially for them,” said Nasser Ibrahim Mohamed Al Mohannadi, a member of CMC championing the proposal.

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Qatar is upgrading its infrastructure in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup – which includes building large soccer stadiums and luxurious accommodations for visitors.

However, authorities have failed to provide adequate protection to its foreign workers against serious rights abuses, including forced labor and trafficking.

Foreigners, mostly male from Southeast and Far-East Asia, make up almost 94% of Qatar's workforce, and nearly 90% of its total population – which is a lot. Since majority of them are living without families, they would not be able to enter malls on their off days during weekends as a result of the new rule.

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A laborer from Nepal told local newspaper Al Bawaba that the move will cause problems for people like him: “The rule makes us feel like we’re not human at all. It hurts us that we can’t enjoy ourselves and be among people inside malls during the hot searing months." This policy makes us feel unwelcome in the country we are helping build.”

This isn’t the first time authorities in Qatar have been accused of segregating its foreign workers from local residents.

Just last month, the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (MMUP) published a series of “interactive maps,” highlighting the districts where laborer accommodation is banned. It was seen as a renewal of the government’s efforts to keep migrant workers away from residential areas.