More than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago, The Guardian can reveal.
The findings, compiled from government sources, mean that an average of 12 migrant workers from these five South Asian nations have died each week since the night of December 2010 when the streets of Doha filled with ecstatic crowds celebrating victory. from Qatar.
Data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka revealed that there were 5,927 migrant worker deaths in the period 2011-2020. Separately, data from the Pakistani embassy in Qatar reported an additional 824 deaths of Pakistani workers, between 2010 and 2020.
The total death toll is significantly higher, as these figures do not include deaths from several countries that send large numbers of workers to Qatar, including the Philippines and Kenya. The deaths that occurred in the last months of 2020 are not included either.
In the past 10 years, Qatar has embarked on an unprecedented construction program, largely in preparation for the 2022 soccer tournament. In addition to seven new stadiums, dozens of major projects have been completed or are underway, including a new airport, roads, public transport, hotels and a new city, which will host the World Cup final.
While death records are not classified by occupation or workplace, it is likely that many workers who died were employed in these World Cup infrastructure projects, says Nick McGeehan, director of FairSquare Projects, a specialized advocacy group. in labor rights in the Gulf. . “A very significant proportion of the migrant workers who have died since 2011 were only in the country because Qatar won the right to host the World Cup,” he said.
There have been 37 deaths among workers directly linked to the construction of the World Cup stadiums, of which 34 are classified as “not related to work” by the organizing committee of the event. Experts have questioned the use of the term because in some cases it has been used to describe deaths that have occurred on the job, including several workers who collapsed and died on the stadium construction sites.
The findings expose Qatar’s failure to protect its 2 million migrant workers, or even investigate the causes of the seemingly high death rate among the mostly young workers.
Behind the statistics are countless stories of devastated families who have been left without their main breadwinner, struggling for compensation and confused about the circumstances of their loved one’s death.
Ghal Singh Rai from Nepal paid nearly £ 1,000 in recruitment fees for his job as a cleaner at a camp for workers building the Education City World Cup stadium. A week after his arrival, he committed suicide.
Another worker, Mohammad Shahid Miah, from Bangladesh, was electrocuted in his workers’ accommodation after water came into contact with exposed electrical wires.
In India, Madhu Bollapally’s family has never understood how the healthy 43-year-old died of “natural causes” while working in Qatar. His body was found lying on the floor of his bedroom.
The terrible death toll in Qatar is revealed in long official data spreadsheets that list the causes of death: multiple blunt injuries from a fall from a height; suffocation by hanging; undetermined cause of death by decomposition.
But among the causes, the most common by far are so-called “natural deaths,” often attributed to acute heart or respiratory failure.
According to data obtained by The Guardian, 69% of the deaths of Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi workers are classified as natural. Among Indians alone, the figure is 80%.
The Guardian previously reported that such classifications, which are usually made without an autopsy, often do not provide a legitimate medical explanation for the underlying cause of these deaths.
In 2019 it found that the intense heat of Qatar’s summer is likely a significant factor in the deaths of many workers. The Guardian’s findings were supported by an investigation commissioned by the UN’s International Labor Organization that revealed that for at least four months of the year workers faced significant heat stress when working outdoors.
A 2014 report by Qatari government’s own lawyers recommended that it commission a study on the deaths of migrant workers from cardiac arrest and amend the law to “allow autopsies … in all cases of sudden or unexpected death.” The government has done neither.
Qatar continues to “drag its feet on this critical and urgent issue in apparent disregard for the lives of workers,” said Hiba Zayadin, a Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We have asked Qatar to amend its autopsy law to require forensic investigations into all sudden or unexplained deaths, and to pass legislation to require that all death certificates include a reference to a medically significant cause of death,” he said.
The Qatari government says the death toll, which it does not dispute, is proportional to the size of the migrant workforce and that the figures include white-collar workers who have died naturally after living in Qatar for many years.
“The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population. However, every life lost is a tragedy, and no effort is spared to try to prevent every death in our country, ”the Qatari government said in a statement from a spokesperson.
The official added that all citizens and foreigners have access to free first-class healthcare and that there has been a steady decline in the death rate among “guest workers” over the past decade due to health and safety reforms in the system. labor.
Other leading causes of death among Indians, Nepalese, and Bangladeshis are traffic accidents (12%), work-related accidents (7%), and suicide (7%).
Covid-related deaths, which have remained extremely low in Qatar, have not significantly affected the figures, with just over 250 deaths among all nationalities.
The Guardian investigation has also highlighted the lack of transparency, rigor and detail in the recording of deaths in Qatar. Embassies in Doha and governments in labor-sending countries are reluctant to share the data, possibly for political reasons. When statistics have been provided, there are inconsistencies between the figures from different government agencies and there is no standard format for recording causes of death. A South Asian embassy said they could not share data on causes of death because they were only recorded by hand in a notebook.
“There is a real lack of clarity and transparency surrounding these deaths,” said May Romanos, Gulf researcher at Amnesty International. “Qatar needs to strengthen its occupational health and safety standards.”
The organizing committee for the World Cup in Qatar, when asked about the deaths in stadium projects, said: “We deeply regret all these tragedies and investigated every incident to make sure lessons were learned. We have always maintained transparency on this issue and we dispute inaccurate claims about the number of workers who have died in our projects ”.
In a statement, a spokesman for FIFA, the world’s governing body for soccer, said it is fully committed to protecting workers’ rights in FIFA projects. “With the very strict health and safety measures in place … the frequency of accidents at the FIFA World Cup construction sites has been low compared to other major construction projects around the world,” they said , without providing evidence.