North Korean Slaves Are Building Qatar’s World Cup Centerpiece

Perhaps a soccer tournament isn't worth all this?

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Nov 7 2014, 9:42pm

Construction in Qutar. Photo via Flickr user ​Paul Trafford

In order to make the 2022 World Cup a good show, Qatar has to fill a tall order. The smallest country to ever host the tournament, both in size and population, desperately needs to bulk up its infrastructure. In order to withstand the anticipated influx of soccer fanatics, the country's leaders are constructing Lusail City, a development replete with island ​r​esorts, and luxury shopping. Concept art for the planned city looks like it could be a gated subdivision in Central Florida, or a retirement community centered around a golf course—only, y'know, in the middle of a desert and financed by bushels and bushels of oil and natural gas money.

So what to do when you're tasked with a construction project like that? Cue the modern-day slaves. The harsh conditions faced by workers in mega-rich Gulf states is by now well known—see this piece for​ VICE by Molly Crabapple, for instance—but what wasn't known was that thousands of workers in Qatar are "state-sponsored slaves," a fact only recently reported by the Guardian.

Yes, North Korea's economy is apparently so pathetic that the regime has resorted to exporting human beings in exchange for foreign currency. The regime sent up to 3,000 workers to Qatar, the Guardian estimates, and perhaps as many as 65,000 abroad in total.

This latest information is consistent with what VICE found in a 2011 documentary on labor camps in Siberia. Most of the workers are in their 40s with families and move to miniature versions of the homeland—waking up to the same songs in houses that look like ones in North Korea. After three years, the workers return to their homeland, where they go through a one-month reintegration project to get caught up on missed propaganda.

At this point, it must be obvious to anyone who cares about human rights that letting this tiny, authoritarian, extremely hot country host the World Cup was a terrible idea. Not only is Qatar dragging people in to work on the project against their wills, the pl​ayers don't even want to go to the country because it's going to be too fucking hot. Perhaps a soccer tournament isn't worth all this?

UPDATE 11/9: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed Qatar's wealth solely to oil, when in fact its wealth is derived from natural gas as well as oil.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

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