© 2022 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Talking To Qatar's World Cup Workers Gets BBC Reporter Arrested


Qatar has faced plenty of criticism already over its hosting of the World Cup seven years from now. There have been allegations that corruption brought the tournament there. The schedule has been moved because it's too hot during the summer when the World Cup is usually played. And there has been bad press for the treatment of migrant workers building new facilities. The BBC's Mark Lobel visited Qatar earlier this month. He had been invited by the prime minister's office to tour a new housing complex for those low-paid migrant workers. But before the tour, Lobel and his crew decided to talk to some migrant workers on their own, and they were arrested. He joined us on the line from London. Good Morning.

MARK LOBEL: Hello there.

MONTAGNE: Elaborate for us on what happened the day you were arrested.

LOBEL: It was quite strange because we had just left the hotel and - myself, the cameraman, translator, and of course, the driver - and we'd been driving for about five minutes and nothing had really happened. And suddenly, out of the blue, eight cars drove us off the road and took all our kit and made us get out of the car, get into separate cars. We worked out quite soon that it was the intelligence service that had pulled us over. And the beginning of our 36 hours of detention was in the Criminal Investigations Department. We were having to sign search warrants so they could go through our kit. And then eventually, we were all interrogated one-by one-by intelligence officers.

MONTAGNE: What did they say about why you were arrested? - Because were you not quite clearly from the BBC and at the invitation of the prime minister?

LOBEL: They didn't really tell us what we were being accused of. Of course we asked. They didn't give us a reason right until the second day in the afternoon during our second interrogation, after we spent our first night in prison. And they said that we were working outside a tourist visa. And in the weeks of planning with the government's office, they never said or suggested that we needed anything other than a tourist visa. In fact, the other journalists on the official tour who weren't detained were also on a tourist visa, as far as I understood from talking to them afterwards. So there was a lot of confusion. They have come out with more allegations since our story was released about why we were arrested, but that was the reason they gave us at the time.

MONTAGNE: Well, what were you able to get a look at that was not official before you were arrested? And this is in a context of an Amnesty International report that came out yesterday at the one-year mark of Qatar announcing reforms about these workers.

LOBEL: We wanted to find out how the majority of migrants were living. So we met up with a Nepalese man who was working in the World Trade Center. And we followed him on his commute back home on one of these packed buses to his accommodation. He invited us in, and we had a look around to see the kind of conditions and hear his story. And that's really the filming that we had done. Nothing had been broadcast and it was all going to be part of a report that would have focused on the government's efforts to change their image within the country, which seems to have backfired.

MONTAGNE: Well, lastly, when you finally rejoined the official tour - the government tour, what you were there for, as far as they were concerned - what did you see?

LOBEL: When we joined the official tour, we saw a villa complex for workers who were actually working on World Cup stadiums where the football matches will be played. We saw swimming pools. We saw a well-equipped gym. We saw an accommodation that was very comfortable for the workers and it had privacy curtains. This was obviously a great improvement. The workers we spoke to were very happy with it. But the fact is there is about one and-a-half million migrant workers with another million expected over the next five years. This was housing for a couple of thousand. Whether they could build enough of this housing to make a big mark in, you know, representing a lot of the migrant workers is yet to be seen.

MONTAGNE: Mark, thanks very much.

LOBEL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Mark Lobel is a Middle East business correspondent for the BBC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.