How Qatari mall ‘Asian Town’ has become a symbol of racial segregation

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It can appear to be like any other entertainment complex in Qatar: a giant shopping mall, with a multiplex cinema and an amphitheatre for musical shows. But there are no high-end boutiques, no women and no Qataris.

Welcome to Asian Town, an entertainment and shopping venue in the heart of the largest labour camp in Qatar, on the outskirts of the capital, Doha.

Each day, thousands of young men gather here from the workers’ dormitories that stretch out into the desert for miles around, to enjoy mutton curries, Bollywood films or just a sanctuary from the searing heat.

The venue, which is owned by the government, attracts 950,000 visits a month, the vast majority of whom are migrant workers. A full 95% of Qatar’s working population come from outside the country, with the majority from South Asia.

“This is the cheapest place to shop in Qatar,” said Ahmed Refaat, the marketing manager of Asian Town told the Guardian. “The events and entertainment are all for free. The workers are so satisfied and happy.”

Others, however, see these developments not as a genuine attempt to improve the treatment of migrant workers – which has attracted international condemnation – but part of a deliberate strategy to isolate them.

“Asian Town is a popular facility with lots of entertainment and shopping options for people living in the area,” said Shabina Khatri, former editor of Doha News. “But such developments are also a step closer to segregating Qatar’s migrant worker population from the rest of the community.”

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