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Friday, December 3, 2021

‘Unliveable conditions’ unmasked at Qatar budget quarantine facilities


Unhygienic rooms, inedible food, and psychological distress – these are the issues faced by people in some of Qatar’s quarantine facilities, including Mekaines, Umm Qarn and Umm Salal Ali.

A recent report by GCC-based advocacy organisation Migrant-Rights.org has detailed the unliveable conditions that visitors experience in some quarantine facilities in Qatar.

The report follows domestic workers, security guards, and other workers as they share anecdotes from budget quarantine facilities across the country.

It reveals shocking details of neglect at a quarantine facility designated by the Ministry of Public Health – the Mekaines Hotel, also known as the Mekaines quarantine facility, where visitors were given one brush to clean the place themselves. According to the MR report, inadequate cleaning material was provided and the same bed sheets were used for periods of up to two weeks.

Speaking to Doha News, Mary (an alias) was returning from her home country Serbia. She stayed at the Mekaines facility when her employing company could not find bookings at a hotel for quarantine.

Read also: Qatar ramps up efforts with new UN humanitarian office

Mary had no prior knowledge of the place. Single rooms were advertised, but when she arrived, she saw multiple women staying in one room. The women were given sheets, a blanket, a small plastic toothbrush, a bar of soap, tissues and a razor.

She sat on a flimsy plastic chair to await her turn to take the swab test.

“The person doing the swab test did not change their gloves and did the swab test on several women in a row without replacing their gloves,” she said.

It was unclean, with rats often making appearances. Food was served on the floor in boxes, and so she chose not to eat from the facility. There were no curtains. Every block, which consisted of 10 villas, had only one security guard present.

Four days later, Mary was transferred to a hotel.

Even for employees booking for their staff, the conditions were too dire. One individual who spoke to Doha News said he made a booking at Mekaines for his housekeeper’s quarantine. 

He said her room was not cleaned, there were no sheets on the bed, nor were there tables, chairs, or a bin. The blanket was also dirty and had a hole in it. She spent one day there before her employer says he kicked up a fuss to allow her to be transferred to a hotel to complete her quarantine.

Qatari employers who spoke to Doha News also complained of poor conditions at the Mekaines facility.

“I sent my driver to Mekaines and within two days I’ve cancelled my booking and transferred him to a hotel, the level of hygiene and food is ridiculous. And I’m quite confused as to why we are paying such an amount for these standards. It is unacceptable that anyone would allow his employees to live in this sort of place,” said the employer.

Another employer described the conditions as unacceptable given the price of quarantining at Mekaines, which is only a few hundred riyals less than a 4-star hotel. 

I’ve moved all my employees to hotels as the quality of Mekaines is unacceptable,” he said. However, the government says this is against the standards set by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

We reached out to the former head of the Mekaines facility at Waseef, who is no longer responsible for the project, but have yet to receive a comment.

Supplied to Doha News [DN]
However, in a statement to Doha News, the Government Communications Office confirmed that the MoPH has recently received complaints and found that the Mekaines quarantine facility, operated by Waseef, has not been following these health and safety regulations.

“The MOPH is closely investigating the complaints and has increased regulation, in coordination with the Qatar Red Crescent, of the facility. It has been temporarily placed under its full supervision while a full review is carried out to ensure the rigorous health standards are being met,” the statement said.

But this is not just a one-off issue. The same problems have been raised in the Umm Salal Ali and the Umm Qarn quarantine facilities, where some isolating there have reported similar conditions.

In the statement, the government said a comprehensive system has been put in place to monitor the health and safety standards at all government-run quarantine facilities.

“At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, accommodation standards were introduced to ensure that all quarantine facilities provide a comfortable experience for guests while containing the spread of the virus,” the statement said.

Read also: Travel quarantine exemptions for vaccinated residents extended

However, some have complained that the information regarding these conditions that is being shared on social media is “really negative and not constructive at all,” claiming that Qatar is doing its best given the rapidly increasing number of Covid-19 cases reported daily.

The MR report suggests these complaints are not few, with many pointing to a lack of quality for essentials such as food and nutrition.

Isolated individuals were given inedible, pungent, and sometimes rotting food. Not enough water was given to the visitors and things as simple as fruit were not offered at a time when nutrition was critical. As a result, people often went days without eating sufficiently. All elements of their ordeal only further put them at the risk of infection.

A swab test was done on February 22, only for results – negative – to be revealed six days later on February 28, said the report.

A day after, the men returned to their jobs as Msheireb security guards.

Traumatising quarantine facilities

One complaint cited in the report revealed ordeals from a domestic worker named Yem, who was required to quarantine after returning from her annual vacation in the Philippines.

Her two weeks at Mekaines proved to be an unforgettable, terrible experience.

“We arrived late in the night and there were two of us in each room and they gave us fresh sheets. The food they gave was disgusting, but I thought maybe it had gone bad as it was very late. But it happened two or three times during my stay that the food given had gone bad. But even when it wasn’t spoilt, the food was disgusting. We don’t know what the cuisine was but they gave us rice morning, afternoon and night with beans and chicken salona,” read her testimony to Migrant-Rights.org.

She was one of the visitors who were forced to clean their own rooms due to a lack of staff at the facility. 

Read also: Dialogue with Qatar ‘more effective than boycott’, senior ILO official says

Yem was required to share her room with other people. There was no internet and therefore no means for isolated individuals to communicate with their families or friends.

This is against the standards set by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPh).

“The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) has set clear health and safety standards for all quarantine facilities, including air-conditions for all rooms, free personal hygiene products, a mobile phone with SIM card, and Wi-Fi connection. Meals are provided in accordance with the guests’ dietary and religious requirements,” the government said.

“The State of Qatar will continue to take all necessary measures to support the health and wellbeing of its citizens and residents during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the GCO. 

A spokesperson at Migrant-Rights.org said the conditions are a reflection of how terrible labour accommodations are, and that because of isolation, workers are exposed to those conditions all day. 

Supplied to Doha News [DN]
“How can paid quarantine accommodations be in such poor conditions,” the spokesperson said, noting no real change can be taken until society “denormalises poor conditions in labour accommodations in general for low income workers, such as labour camps.” 

“This, in turn, will ensure that proper needs and conditions are met in times of crises” such as the pandemic that has shaken the world.

This episode seems to be yet another case of private companies failing people in Qatar, all of whom have been allowed to do so due to poor oversight from authorities.

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