More than 500 Indian migrant workers have died in Qatar since January 2012, revealing for the first time the shocking scale of fatalities among those building the infrastructure for the 2022 soccer World Cup.
Official figures confirmed by the Indian embassy in Doha reveal that 237 Indians working in Qatar died in 2012 and 241 last year. Another 24 Indians died last month.
These come after the Guardian revealed last month that 185 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar last year, taking the total from that country to at least 382 over two years.
Human rights groups and politicians said the figures meant FIFA could not “look the other way,” and should be leading demands for Qatar to improve conditions for the estimated 1.2 million migrant workers fueling the construction boom.
The figures from the Indian embassy also show that 233 Indian migrants died in 2010 and 239 in 2011, taking the total over four years to 974.
Since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in December 2010, there have been 717 recorded Indian deaths.
The embassy did not provide further details on who those individuals were, their cause of death or where they worked.
However, analysis of the lists of dead Nepalese workers showed that more than two-thirds died of sudden heart failure or workplace accidents.
“With specific regard to these new figures, we were aware that local media had previously reported some of these headline numbers and we are clarifying them. Clearly any one death in Qatar or anywhere else is one death too many — for the workers, for their families, but also for Qataris who welcome guest workers to our country to perform valuable jobs,” the Qatari Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs said.
“We are working to understand the causes of these deaths — as these statistics could include a range of circumstances including natural causes and road safety incidents, as well as a smaller number of workplace incidents,” it added.
Human Rights Watch researcher Nicholas McGeehan said: “These figures for Indian deaths are a horrendous confirmation that it isn’t just Nepalese workers who are dying in Qatar.”
A hearing at the European Parliament heard last week from human rights groups, FIFA and other interested parties after a resolution last year calling for action on the issue as construction of 2022 World Cup venues begins in earnest.
Despite the Qatar 2022 organizing committee implementing a new charter relating to construction of its stadiums, and the Qatari labor ministry highlighting an expanded inspection program, human rights groups and trade unions have repeated their call for structural change in the face of hundreds of deaths.
In November last year, Amnesty International warned in a damning report that workers were enduring 12-hour days in sweltering conditions and living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation.
The International Trade Union Confederation says up to 4,000 workers may die before a ball is kicked in 2022 without meaningful reform of the kafala system, which ties workers to their employers, and stringent control of the myriad construction companies and subcontractors involved.
The confederation has called the charter a sham because it does not deal with structural problems created by the kafala system. Many workers arrive in Qatar already heavily in debt, having paid huge sums to middle men to secure contracts in the fast-growing Gulf state.
There are an estimated 1.2 million migrant workers in Qatar. Those from India make up 22 percent of the total, with a similar proportion from Pakistan. About 16 percent are from Nepal, 13 percent from Iran, 11 percent from the Philippines, 8 percent from Egypt and 8 percent from Sri Lanka.
The Qatar World Cup organizers believe that by holding their own contractors to higher standards, they can create momentum for change, and that improved rights for workers could be one legacy benefit of hosting the tournament.
The Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it is stepping up efforts to hold contractors to existing labor laws, sanctioning 2,000 companies last year and a further 500 last month alone.
Law firm DLA Piper has been engaged to prepare a report on all issues surrounding Qatar’s use of migrant labor, which is expected to be published next month.
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
Amnesty’s James Lynch, who wrote last year’s report, called on the Qatari and Indian authorities to provide more details on the circumstances of the deaths.
“This issue is not restricted to one country of origin,” Lynch said. “It is critical that the Qatari government works urgently with the governments of migrant workers’ countries of origin to investigate the main causes of migrant workers’ deaths and develops a transparent plan to address these, particularly where deaths relate to industrial accidents, work conditions and access to healthcare.”