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Transnational elites and construction workers in Doha

Jeremie Molho discusses the different forms of labour migration to the Qatar capital Doha
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To give the whole picture, you have to understand that 88% of the population in Doha is constituted of foreign migrants. There is a very little proportion of the working population, especially in the private sector, that is constitutive of nationals, of citizens. So what it means is that basically, in most sectors from construction , to oil and gas but also in higher education or culture, you have migrants that are completing the jobs. So, it also means that in terms of demographics, you tend to have a population which consists rather of people in the age of working, so from their late 20s to their 50s, and also predominantly male. This situation is not totally new, of course.
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We could say even that the goal, for Doha in particular, was always for a long time a place of migration. But it was especially after the country started exporting oil and gas, especially in the 60s, and then afterwards that it became independent in ‘71, and then started to develop very quickly that it started to import this workforce like this. So especially at the start, from the surrounding Arab countries and little by little more and more from South Asia and Southeast Asia. The common point between these different migrants is that they are not thought of as long term migrants. They are supposed to be temporary. So, when you think of low skilled migrants, they’re supposed to come to perform certain tasks.
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And when you think of high skilled migrants, they come for what is called their Qatarization which means they’re supposed to bring their skills to enable, in the long term, the local population to acquire the skills that will enable them to complete the tasks themselves. But as the migration scholar at Zahra Barbar has shown, the reality is that a lot of people end up staying much longer than expected. And that some of the migrants have been living in Qatar, and in Doha in particular, for more than one generation.
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There is a great contrast. On the one hand, Qatar is ranked fifth in the Global Slavery Index. And 30,000 people are considered to live in conditions of modern slavery. And on the other hand, high skilled workers are invited and lured to come with fancy villas, with swimming pools, and big cars, and of course, very, very high salaries. But at the same time, it’s important to note that what is specific, I think, in Qatar, is that all of these migrants, whether low skill or high skill, are thought of as temporary. And therefore, they are not, most of them, are not entitled to owning property, to owning a house. Most of them are not going to obtain citizenship.
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And also, depending on the sponsor, which can decide to have them leave the country the next day. So in a way, there is also a reality, which is not so contrasted when we look at the status of these different workers.
Interview with Jeremie Molho, European University Institute (Florence, Italy)
We asked Jeremie the following two questions:
  1. What kind of migrants has Doha attracted in the last few years?
  2. How do the living and working conditions of transnational highly educated elites and low skilled construction workers compare?
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