Qatar is facing growing international pressure to act against the growing death toll of migrant workers preparing for the 2022 World Cup as unions warned another 4,000 people could die in the Gulf emirate before a ball is kicked.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said at least half a million extra workers from countries including Nepal, India and Sri Lanka were expected to flood in to Qatar to complete stadiums, hotels and infrastructure. Unless the Doha government made urgent reforms to working conditions the death toll among migrant builders could reach 600 a year, or almost a dozen a week, the ITUC said.
The stark warning came after a Guardian investigation revealed that 44 Nepalese workers died from 4 June to 8 August this year, about half from heart failure or workplace accidents. Workers described being forced to work in 50C heat without a supply of drinking water by employers who withhold salaries for several months and retain their passports to prevent them leaving the country. The investigation found sickness is endemic among workers living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions, and hunger has been reported.
A representative on the board of Fifa, which controversially awarded the world’s biggest sporting event to Qatar in 2010, called for an urgent inquiry by the world governing body. Fifa announced it will discuss the issue at a meeting of its executive committee in Zurich next week and a spokesman said it was “very concerned about the reports presented by the media regarding labour rights’ abuses and the conditions for construction workers”.
A spokesman for Qatar’s World Cup organisers said they were “appalled” by the Guardian revelations and said there was “no excuse” for the maltreatment of workers. In London, Tory MP Damian Collins said England and other major footballing nations should consider boycotting the World Cup if Fifa does not show it is taking concerns surrounding the Qatar 2022 tournament seriously.
The problem of workers’ deaths is not confined to Nepalese migrants who make up 16% of Qatar’s 1.2 million migrant labour force. The Indian ambassador in Qatar said 82 Indian workers died in the first five months of this year and 1,460 complained to the embassy about labour conditions and consular problems. More than 700 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2010 and 2012.
“Nothing of any substance is being done by the Qatar authorities on this issue,” said Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the Brussels-based ITUC. It has met the Qatari labour minister in Geneva and officials at the Qatar 2022 supreme committee. “The evidence-based assessment of the mortality rate of migrant workers in Qatar shows that at least one worker on average per day is dying. In the absence of real measures to tackle that and an increase in 50% of the migrant workforce, there will be a concominant increase in deaths.”
The ITUC has based the estimate on current mortality figures for Nepalese and Indian workers who form a large part of Qatar’s migrant workforce, the majority of whom are builders. While it admits that the cause of death is not clear for many of the deceased – with autopsies often not being conducted and routine attribution to heart failure – it believes harsh and dangerous conditions at work and cramped and squalid living quarters are to blame.
“We are absolutely convinced they are dying because of conditions of work and life,” said Burrow. “Everything the Guardian has found out accords with the information we have gathered from visits to Qatar and Nepal … The 2022 World Cup is a very high-profile event and should be implemented with the very highest standards and that is clearly not the case.”
The Nepalese government on Thursday recalled its ambassador to Qatar after she caused a series of diplomatic incidents, which drew complaints from both the Nepali and Qatari authorities.
In an interview with the BBC earlier this year, ambassador Maya Kumari Sharma said Qatar was an “open jail” for Nepalese migrants. Her post had been under threat for some time. According to local media reports, earlier this week a senior Nepali politician called for her dismissal, following a request from the Qatari ambassador to Nepal.
There were wider calls in Kathmandu for Nepal’s government to do more to defend its people working in the Gulf.
“What we now want to see is an increase in human capacity at Nepal’s embassy in Qatar to deal with the huge numbers of workers seeking help, and an increase in resources so that the embassy can provide shelter, food and, if necessary, air tickets back to Nepal,” said Rameshwar Nepal, director of Amnesty International Nepal.
Last month 30 migrant workers took refuge in the embassy.
source: Guardian UK