Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers died in Qatar as it prepares for the World Cup | Global development

More than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since he won the right to host the World Cup ten 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 were filled with ecstatic crowds celebrating the victory of the Qatar.

Data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka revealed that there were 5,927 deaths of migrant workers 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.

Mohammad Shahid Miah, 29, from Bangladesh, died when a flood in his room came in contact with an exposed electrical cable, electrocuting him.

The total death toll is significantly higher, as these figures do not include the deaths of several countries that send large numbers of workers to Qatar, including the Philippines and Kenya. Deaths in the last months of 2020 are also not included.

In the past 10 years, Qatar has embarked on an unprecedented construction program, mainly in preparation for the 2022 football tournament. In addition to seven new stadiums, dozens of major projects have been completed or are in progress, including a new airport, roads , public transport systems, hotels and a new city, which will host the World Cup final.

Although death records are not categorized by occupation or place of work, it is likely that many workers who died were employed in these World Cup infrastructure projects, says Nick McGeehan, director of FairSquare Projects, an advocacy group specializing in labor rights in the Gulf. “A very significant proportion of migrant workers who have died since 2011 were in the country only because Qatar won the right to host the World Cup,” he said.

A year after the start of the biggest health crisis in the world, we now face a human rights pandemic. Covid-19 exposed the inequalities and weaknesses of political and health systems and allowed authoritarian regimes to impose drastic restrictions on rights and freedoms, using the virus as a pretext to restrict freedom of expression and repress dissent.

Rights and Freedom is a new series of Guardian reports to investigate and expose human rights abuses at this critical time and to raise the voice of people on the front lines, fighting for themselves and their communities.

There have already been 37 deaths of workers directly linked to the construction of stadiums for the World Cup, of which 34 were classified as “non-labor” by the event’s organizing committee. Experts question the use of the term because, in some cases, it has been used to describe deaths in the workplace, including several workers who collapsed and died on stadium construction sites.

The findings expose Qatar’s failure to protect its migrant workforce of 2 million people, or even to investigate the causes of the apparently high mortality rate among largely young workers.

World Cup workers – death toll – revised

Behind the statistics are countless stories of devastated families who were left without their main breadwinner, struggling to get compensation and confused about the circumstances of the death of their loved ones.

Nepal’s Ghal Singh Rai paid nearly £ 1,000 in recruitment fees for his work as a janitor at a camp for workers who built the City of Education stadium for the World Cup. A week after arriving, he killed himself.

Another worker, Mohammad Shahid Miah, from Bangladesh, was electrocuted in his accommodation after the water came into contact with exposed electrical cables.

In India, Madhu Bollapally’s family never understood how the healthy 43-year-old man died of “natural causes” while working in Qatar. His body was found lying on the floor of his dormitory.

Madhu Bollapally

The terrible death toll in Qatar is revealed in long official data sheets listing the causes of the deaths: several blunt injuries from a fall from a height; choking by hanging; undetermined cause of death due to decomposition.

But among the causes, the most common is by far the so-called “natural deaths”, often attributed to acute heart or respiratory failure.

Based on data obtained by the Guardian, 69% of deaths among Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi workers are categorized as natural. Only among the Indians, the number is 80%.

The Guardian previously reported that such classifications, which are usually done without an autopsy, often do not provide a legitimate medical explanation for the underlying cause of these deaths.

In 2019, he found that the intense summer heat in Qatar is likely to be a significant factor in the deaths of many workers. The Guardian’s findings were supported by research commissioned by the UN International Labor Organization, which revealed that for at least four months of the year, workers faced significant heat stress when working outside the home.

Nepalese workers erected scaffolding to launch the World Cup logo.  They start working long before sunrise to avoid the heat.

Nepalese workers erected scaffolding to launch the World Cup logo. They start working long before sunrise to avoid the heat. Photography: Pete Pattisson

A report by Qatar’s own government lawyers in 2014 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 unexpected or sudden death”. The government did none of this.

Qatar continues to “drag its feet on this critical and urgent issue in apparent disregard for the lives of workers,” said Hiba Zayadin, Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We ask 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 references to a clinically significant cause of death,” she said.

Mohammad Shahid Miah

The Qatari government says the number of deaths – which it does not dispute – is proportional to the size of the migrant workforce and that the figures include white-collar workers who died naturally after living in Qatar for many years.

“The mortality rate of these communities is within the range expected for the size and demography of the population. However, any life lost is a tragedy and no effort is spared to try to prevent all deaths in our country, ”said the Qatari government in a note from a spokesman.

The official added that all citizens and foreigners have access to free first-class health care and that there has been a steady decline in the death rate among “guest workers” in the past decade due to health and safety reforms in the labor system.

World Cup workers – causes of death – latest data

Other significant causes of death among Indians, Nepalese and Bangladeshis are road accidents (12%), work accidents (7%) and suicide (7%).

Covid-related deaths, which remained extremely low in Qatar, did not significantly affect the numbers, with just over 250 deaths among all nationalities.

Ghal Singh Rai

The Guardian’s survey also highlighted the lack of transparency, rigor and detail in the record of deaths in Qatar. Embassies in Doha and governments in countries that emit labor are reluctant to share the data, possibly for political reasons. Where statistics were provided, there are inconsistencies between the numbers maintained by different government agencies, and there is no standard format for recording causes of death. A South Asian embassy said it could not share data on the causes of the deaths because they were recorded only by hand in a notebook.

“There is a real lack of clarity and transparency around these deaths,” said May Romanos, an Amnesty International Gulf researcher. “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 we investigate each incident to ensure that lessons are learned. We have always maintained transparency around this issue and challenged inaccurate claims about the number of workers who died on our projects. “

In a statement, a spokesman for FIFA, the governing body of world football, said he was fully committed to protecting workers’ rights in FIFA projects. “With very stringent health and safety measures in place … the frequency of accidents at FIFA World Cup construction sites has been low compared to other major construction projects around the world,” they said without provide evidence.