Update at 7pm on May 11: After a generous outpouring of support from Qatar residents as well as support from their employer, the expats affected by last Friday’s labor camp fire now have a sufficient supply of clothes, food and toiletries. As a result, volunteers say the donation drive has come to an end.
Volunteers in Qatar are appealing for food and clothing donations after a massive fire ripped through a labor camp in Sailiya on Friday, sending more than 400 expats fleeing to safety with little more than the clothes on their back.
Most of the men, who were primarily from Sri Lanka and Nepal, appear to have escaped without serious injuries.
Several sources, including a spokesperson from the Sri Lankan embassy in Qatar, told Doha News that no one was killed in the fire.
However, there have been unconfirmed reports that two men from Bangladesh died in the fire.
The cause of the blaze, which broke out in Sailiya camp 19 between 11am and 11:30am on Friday, is still under investigation. But one of the men living there told Doha News that it was sparked by an electrical fault.
He said he suspected the circuit was overloaded on Friday as most of the camp’s residents had the day off and “everyone was using power.”
He added that there were signs of problems before the fire as an electrical box had shorted out two days earlier.
After a camp supervisor was notified, an electrician was dispatched to inspect the problem. But he left without performing any repairs and said he’d return later to fix it, the man said.
“There was no fire safety,” he told Doha News, adding that most rooms housed between six and eight men.
Most of the men worked for Group Seven, which employees said contracts workers to clean and serve drinks in offices around Qatar. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.
Employees from several smaller firms were also said to be living in the same labor camp.
In the aftermath of the fire, the men were moved to temporary housing on Street 38 in the Industrial Area before being shifted again late last night to a new labor camp in Al Shahaniya in central Qatar.
Word of the fire had spread throughout Qatar’s Sri Lankan community by Saturday morning, said Hazim Hamza, one of the volunteers collecting donations for the men.
“They’ve lost (everything). All they have are the clothes they were wearing when they ran out,” he told Doha News.
He said the most pressing need is for dry food, toiletries and clothing, all of which can be dropped off at the Stafford Sri Lankan School off Salwa Road, near the Midmac Flyover.
Speaking to Doha News, a spokesperson from the Sri Lankan embassy said he was going to the men’s new camp today to supervise the distribution of the expats’ April salary. He added that the employer had also promised a QR200 payment as compensation for their hardship.
He said that he is encouraging the men to return to work tomorrow, saying that fires can happen in any country.
“It’s a normal thing,” the spokesperson said. “They came here to work and earn money for their family.”
However, one of the workers said some of the men involved are still on edge and want to return to Sri Lanka as they don’t trust the safety standards in Qatar.
The spokesperson said that while he never visited the Sailiya camp that caught fire, the embassy has inspected and approved the new accommodation, which he said included a fire extinguisher for every block.
Hamza described the new camp as “liveable.” He said he was thankful that casualties were minimized in this fire, but said the incident is nevertheless a reminder that some workers’ housing in Qatar is substandard.
“It should be a lesson for all other companies that house laborers (to ensure) all safety measures are in place,” he said.