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Qatar mall 'family only' rule seen as discriminating against migrant workers

Implementation of family-only day follows online discussions on migrant workers 'crowding' new shopping complex at Eid
A worker on the sea promenade in Doha during renovation ahead of Qatar's 2022 World Cup (AFP)

New regulations at a mall in an upscale area of Qatar, which restrict admission to families on Fridays, are being interpreted as an attempt to exclude migrant workers, following complaints from some Qataris that they were "flooding" the complex on Eid. 

A video released on social media of migrant workers visiting Qatar's newly constructed Place Vendome mall has gone viral in the country, with some netizens lamenting the massive crowds for their "disorganisation" and "chaos".

"I am deeply worried as a Qatari citizen about the entrance of migrant workers in these overwhelming numbers on Eid in shopping complexes, in which we cannot be sure of the safety of our families in the midst of this large number of single men who are relatively uneducated," wrote one prominent Qatari social media user.

The "luxurious" mall in Lusail city, which includes three hotels, restaurants, international brand shops and a fully air-conditioned outdoor area, opened in April and is inspired by Paris's high-end shopping district, Rue de la Paix. 

But less than a month after its debut, the mall has drawn attention for the wrong reasons, with some Qataris denouncing the migrant workers visiting the mall on their Eid holiday as harmful for the "mall's image and for families". 

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Translation: The mall is a shopping complex owned by millionaires may God bless them, not a public playground or a corniche where random people can just walk around and dance

Translation: Before you blame or accuse someone of racism understand this: Until someone from your family gets harmed then you will not understand what it means to have kids around these workers who come from difficult backgrounds. Some people act as ideal individuals until the harm comes by them directly.

Translation: Whoever agrees with this behaviour has no concern over the women of his household mixing with workers who we have no idea what religion they follow or what their culture is like.

One individual alluded to the crowd of foreign workers as "dangerous for women in society", arguing that "society has to be organised in a manner that prioritises their protection". 

Translation: It is a duty for everyone to organise society to protect women and their status and to prevent harassment...

Translation: They [migrant workers] are welcome to visit provided that the capacity is regulated... Criticism is the duty every man to preserve the entity of society, especially in the presence of a major imbalance in the demographic structure.

Almost immediately after the criticisms surfaced online, Place Vendome's official Instagram page updated the mall's opening hours, indicating that the mall will only be open for families from 4-7 May - virtually aligning with the country's Eid holidays - and that from 13 May every Friday will be designated as a family-only day. 

While the concept of "family only" is not unusual in Qatar - with several parks and malls restricting access to families on specific days of the week - many on social media interpreted this as a code to "discriminate against migrant workers", most of whom have Friday as their only day off. (Place Vendome didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Translation: I am surprised by the reactions against some residents accessing and enjoying the country's facilities. These places were not opened to receive one exclusive race. It is not from our traditions to belittle and not welcome people. How can we speak of development with these narratives? 

Translation: Yes, let's expel the migrant worker, on the condition that you clean your own dirt and you work 12 hours under the heat - you simply cannot function without them as they work on behalf of you. 

Others claimed ironically that anti-migrant rhetoric in the mall resembles racist arguments made against Arabs in the West. 

Translation: As a "British citizen", I was very upset by the huge number of Arabs entering Harrods on Christmas yesterday, as our families could not be sure of our safety in the face of a huge number of relatively uneducated Arabs. 

One social media user called for the start of a hashtag dubbed #QatarForAll in an attempt to counteract the current of "racist" rhetoric online. 

Several locals also expressed reservations about the country's ability to host the World Cup, with the Eid crowds casting doubt on the country's readiness for the football spectacular in November.

Translation: Are we really ready to host the World Cup with these crowds and in this manner? 

Translation: A question for the citizens and residents of Qatar. It is Eid and this is the crowd and situation of the country, almost everything is closed from the crowdedness. What are we going to do when the World Cup happens? 

The mall controversy follows Fifa President Gianni Infantino's statement that migrant employees in Qatar gain "dignity and pride" in their hard work building World Cup infrastructure. 

"Thanks to Fifa, thanks to football we have been able to address the status of all the 1.5 million workers, working in Qatar," he added. 

While Qatar has implemented a number of labour reforms, including the region's first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage law, Amnesty International said in 2021 that the country ran a "systemic abuse of migrant rights", with Qatari authorities "failing to properly investigate deaths".

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