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Thursday, January 20, 2022

One-year anniversary of Villaggio fire marked in Qatar and abroad



The first anniversary of the Villaggio fire that killed 19 people is being commemorated across the globe today, with residents in Qatar planning an afternoon vigil, families of loved ones asking for a moment of reflection and labor activists criticizing the country’s safety record.

In a joint statement issued today, the parents of the 13 children killed in the fire said:

“Our lives have been turned upside down. Not one minute goes by without us all thinking about our babies. Birthdays and/or other family occasions have passed and each day is as hard as the previous day. And yet we wait. We wait for answers. We wait for justice…

As families, we are now spread around the world and we understand that as time passes, memories fade. Today, we ask you to pause and remember. We, as a group of grieving parents, are committed to ensuring that our children’s memories continue forever. We are committed to fight for justice. And we are committed to making Qatar a safer place.”

To honor the memory of the fallen, a number of people in Qatar are planning to gather for a vigil at Aspire Park this afternoon at 4:30pm, while back in New Zealand, the Weekes – parents of triplets who died – said they were releasing lanterns in remembrance of their children. 

For its part, Villaggio Mall has circulated a memo to employees asking them not to play music in their shops today “as a mark of respect” for the anniversary.

It also has not removed tributes placed near the area of the fire to honor the victims (pictured above), although it was criticized for doing so last year.

Other tributes began pouring in earlier this morning, as people sent tweets, updated Facebook statuses and published blog posts on what today means to them.

Kirsty Rice, a Qatar resident who blogs at 4 kids, 20 suitcases & a beagle, writes: 

I wonder how many kisses a child gives over a year? Count up every “Blow a kiss.” “Give Mummy a kiss.” “Big kiss.” 

I wonder how many kisses a mother gives child? “Mummy kiss it better?” “Kiss goodbye for Dad?” There has now been a year’s worth of missed kisses.

Rice adds that one year on, smoking remains a problem at malls here, and that fire alarms continue to go unheeded.

“One year on and what have we learned? So many missed kisses. We will never forget.”

European relations

Meanwhile, trade union officials have sent a formal letter to Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, urging her to ensure justice is done in the Villaggio fire case.

Five of the children killed in the fire were citizens of EU nations: Isabel Vela and siblings Almudena, Camilo and Alfonso Travesado of Spain; and Youssef Chata of France.

The note was sent to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy by Bernadette Segol, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.

In it, she refers to Qatar’s ambassador to Belgium, Sheikh Ali bin Jassim Al Thani, who is a defendant in the criminal case to determine responsibility in the fire deaths. She writes:

“I ask that the EU use its good offices to support the bereaved families by insisting that Qatar’s top diplomatic representative to the European Union uphold the highest standards of conduct, and accept that he and his wife should facilitate a just outcome to this case by appearing in the court proceedings.”

A verdict on the trial is expected next month.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which has been putting pressure on Qatar to improve its treatment of migrant workers, has also weighed in:

“Qatar is promoting itself as a global destination and a key international player, and it must be able to show the world that it has the will to prevent and avoid tragedies like this.”

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and people need assurance that the law has no favourites. The government of Qatar must face up to its responsibilities.”

For an in-depth look at the fire and its aftermath, including interviews with the relatives of the victims and an analysis of how safe Qatar is today, see our newly published ebook, Tragedy Silenced: Villaggio Fire


Credit: Photo by Georgette Weil on Twitter

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