Home Australia Inside an Australian’s mission to help Qatar World Cup ‘slaves’

Inside an Australian’s mission to help Qatar World Cup ‘slaves’

by Elijah
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Six workers in yellow high-visibility vests in the foreground, a partially completed football stadium in the background.

Before Arnold Dix was hailed as a hero for helping rescue 41 men trapped underground in India, he was already a “silent hero” to thousands of migrant workers forced into slave-like conditions in Qatar.

Australian history can reveal the international tunnel expert from Victoria ran a secret, self-funded humanitarian program in the oil-rich emirate in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup. when mistreatment of workers in Africa and Asia was commonplace.

Workers walk towards the partially completed Lusail Stadium, built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar.(Reuters: Kai Pfaffenbach)

Dix, a lawyer, scientist and engineering professor, organized aid in Qatar and did so in secret for fear of retaliation from “a multibillion-dollar human trafficking system.”

“I was able to help thousands of people with everything from food to getting passports, strategies for leaving the country, [getting] access to health care, speech pathology, medications… and [getting] get them out of jail,” says Dix. She also helped foreign women who had been forced into prostitution.

“I did it quietly and I did it for years,” says Dix, who went to Qatar in 2011 to consult on underground security systems at the country’s new international airport.

“I’m so excited [for those] who have changed their lives from slavery to the various things they do around the world. For me, the proof is in the pudding.”

Bunk beds crammed against the wall

Migrant workers were forced to sleep in overcrowded conditions.(Provided: Amnesty International)

One of the men Dix helped during an eight-year stint in Qatar, Nigerian-born Waheed Lawal, now works in the United States as a safety engineer on the New Shepard project, run by billionaire Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company. Blue Origin.

Lawal credits Dix with lifting him out of poverty in Qatar, helping him reverse his bad luck after falling victim to a job scam.

“[Dix] “He’s a silent hero,” says Lawal. “He has impacted countless lives through his enduring acts of kindness, especially toward marginalized groups.”

Dix’s name made headlines last November when he was called to India to help rescue 41 workers who were trapped after the collapse of a major highway tunnel they were building through the Himalayas.

Dusty debris inside a collapsed tunnel. Rescue workers wear high visibility helmets and helmets

All 41 workers were rescued alive from the collapse of a road tunnel in India in November 2023.(Supplied: Arnold Dix)

All of the men were freed after a highly publicized 17-day marathon, and Dix was praised not only for his work in the rescue but also for the respect he showed the Indians and their culture.

Lawal says: “[He’s] a person who doesn’t look at people’s colors, doesn’t look at religions and…just goes ahead and does the right thing.”

A group of miners in orange high-visibility gear and helmets smile inside a dark tunnel

Some Indians have called Dix a “superhero.”(Supplied: Arnold Dix )

Lawal was a geologist working on a World Health Organization project in Nigeria when he was offered a well-paid executive job in the oil and gas industry in Qatar.

Lawal sold his house to pay $8,000 ($12,332) for a visa, but when he arrived in Qatar there was no work.

“I started crying,” Lawal says. “I can’t turn back. It’s too late. I sold everything.”

Two men stand next to each other, one in a red jacket and beard, the other in a business suit, smiling

Waheed Lawal and Arnold Dix catch up in Washington, DC.(Supplied: Arnold Dix )

He was forced to share a room with 15 other men, pay for a mattress on a bedbug-infested floor, and look for work and food.

Lawal’s salvation came when he found out there was work at the airport.

“I still remember the first day I saw you,” Lawal tells Dix in a video call.

“We are about 100 black people and you are right in the middle of us. You make me feel personally comfortable… Before you, I was never next to any white man.”

Baron outside the area with garbage.

Qatar is a rich country, but many migrant workers are forced to live in slum-like conditions.(Provided: Amnesty International)

Dix hired Lawal, trained him, and certified him as a security officer, allowing Lawal to find a better job and save enough money to leave for the United States.

Lawal then completed an associate degree in occupational health and safety in Seattle, Washington, and found work on a variety of projects before being employed by Blue Origin.

Lawal says that without Dix, his life would be very different. “You are helpless. There is no way out. And now you see [Dix] increase. That is very important. I still tell that story to anyone I know. “It’s unforgettable.”

An airport terminal with a scratched glass roof includes lots of trees, greenery and an escalator.

Arnold Dix traveled to Qatar in 2011 to consult on underground security systems at the country’s new international airport.(Reuters: Hamad I Muhammad)

Dix says he learned about the plight of foreign workers after witnessing workers at the airport falling asleep on the job. He discovered that they were hungry.

He was shocked by the way they treated desperate immigrants on the streets, as if they were invisible. “People just walked by,” he says.

Dix couldn’t turn a blind eye. He organized clandestine food deliveries at night before deciding to set up training courses through his company to train workers.

Dix jokes that from the outside his company looked like the worst-performing consultancy in Qatar. However, he “gave me the opportunity to continue humanitarian work while also helping with the security of their infrastructure.”

Three bathrooms with large holes in the center.

Amnesty International published images from inside the workers’ accommodation. (Provided: Amnesty International)

Damaged bathrooms

Inside the accommodation of migrant workers.(Provided: Amnesty International)

Victor Gadimoh, a Nigerian who still lives in Qatar, helped Dix run the aid program, allowing him to remain anonymous.

Gadimoh says many labor scams were run through companies without the knowledge of authorities, and insists the country has improved worker protection since the construction frenzy for the World Cup.

Three men load a ute with bags of food at night

Men load vehicles to leave food.(Supplied: Arnold Dix)

Gadimoh wanted to tell the story of Dix’s good work in Qatar years ago, but Dix stopped him, fearing for the safety of his family, Greenwood and himself. Gadimoh is glad that the man he calls “Prof” can now be recognized for his life-saving work.

“In my culture, good deeds must be remembered and retold,” Gadimoh writes in a letter. “I don’t think the professor is a rich man; what I saw was that he was prepared [to share] what he had with the others. I think he’s just a hard-working man with a humanitarian heart.”

Arnold in Qatar

Arnold Dix (left) also organized training courses through his company to train workers.(Supplied: Arnold Dix )

Gail Greenwood, Dix’s long-time business manager in Australia who spent time working with him in Qatar, says Dix sold property to fund the mission and dedicated all of his profits from that time to helping stranded foreigners.

“He always wears boots and stuff and this was no different,” Greenwood says. “He just did the most he could to get the best result.

“He saw a need and went after it.”

Dix says he knows what it’s like to face “horrible people.” He’s been deceived and deceived in his life, he says, but he chooses to “be above it.”

“My view,” Dix says, “is that if people helped each other when they can and however they can, there would be an instant transformation of the planet.”

Watch Australian Story’s Man Underground at 8pm on ABCTV and ABC ivista.


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