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Dhaka Tribune

Qatar World Cup preparation costs lives of 1,000 Bangladeshi workers in 10 years

Migrant workers building a state-of-the-art stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar are abused and exploited

Update : 23 Feb 2021, 06:01 PM

At least 1,018 migrant workers from Bangladesh have died in Qatar since it won the right to host the Fifa World Cup in 2010, Britain’s newspaper The Guardian has revealed on the basis of data compiled from Qatari government sources.

The awarding of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to Qatar gave rise to a number of concerns and controversies regarding both Qatar's suitability as a host country and the fairness of Fifa’s bidding process. 

Criticism from a number of media outlets, sporting experts and human rights groups highlighted problems such as Qatar's limited football history, the high expected cost, the local climate and Qatar's human rights record. 

Various organizations have also been complaining for a long time that the human rights of expatriate workers in the Arab country are being violated. The Guardian has carried a special report on this issue. 

The Guardian report came up with shocking information. 

More than 6,500 South Asian workers have died in the run-up to the World Cup since it was offered 10 years ago.

According to data compiled by The Guardian, an average of 12 migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka have died each week in the period between 2011 and 2020.

Government data from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka recorded 5,927 deaths during this period, while Pakistan’s embassy in Qatar reported a further 824 deaths.

Deaths from the final months of 2020 as well as from nations such as Kenya and the Philippines were not included in the total, meaning the death toll is potentially even higher.

Qatar has faced repeated criticism from human and labour rights organisations over its treatment of migrant workers, especially the controversial kafala system which tied workers to their employers, preventing them from changing jobs without their permission.

Although Qatar largely ended the kafala system in September 2020, the country still has a poor record on workers' rights, with construction workers in particular operating in gruelling conditions and receiving low pay and wages delayed for months at a time.

According to the Guardian, official reasons given in the data on the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar included multiple blunt injuries due to a fall from height, asphyxia due to hanging and undetermined cause of death due to decomposition.

However, the data said the most common reason for deaths was “natural deaths” linked to acute heart or respiratory failure. 

Though The Guardian has previously reported that such classifications, which are usually made without an autopsy, often fail to provide a legitimate medical explanation for the underlying cause of these deaths.

There have been 37 deaths among workers directly linked to construction of World Cup stadiums, of which 34 are classified as “non-work related” by the event’s organising committee. 

Experts have questioned the use of the term because in some cases it has been used to describe deaths which have occurred on the job, including a number of workers who have collapsed and died on stadium construction sites.

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

Behind the statistics lie countless stories of devastated families who have been left without their main breadwinner, struggling to gain compensation and confused about the circumstances of their loved one’s death.

Mohammad Shahid Miah, a Bangladeshi expatriate, was electrocuted in his worker accommodation after water came into contact with exposed electricity cables.

The heavy rains that lashed Qatar in late September last year were, to many, an inconvenience. To Shahid they were a death sentence. 

“The rains seeped into his worker accommodation and came into contact with some exposed electricity cables. When Shahid stepped on the wet floor, he was electrocuted and died,” his father told the Guardian.

Shahid had paid a recruitment agent more than £3,500 to secure his job in Qatar in 2017. The debt has now been passed on to his distraught and impoverished parents, who say they have yet to receive any compensation from Shahid’s employer or the Qatari government.

Other significant causes of deaths among Bangladeshis, Indians and Nepalis are road accidents (12%), workplace accidents (7%) and suicide (7%).

Covid-19 related deaths, which have remained extremely low in Qatar, have not significantly affected the figures, with just over 250 fatalities among all nationalities.

The Guardian’s research has also highlighted the lack of transparency, rigour and detail in recording deaths in Qatar. 

“There is a real lack of clarity and transparency surrounding these deaths,” May Romanos, Gulf researcher for Amnesty International, told The Guardian.

“There is a need for Qatar to strengthen its occupational health and safety standards.”

The committee organising the World Cup in Qatar, when asked about the deaths on stadium projects, said: “We deeply regret all of these tragedies and investigated each incident to ensure lessons were learned. We have always maintained transparency around this issue and dispute inaccurate claims around the number of workers who have died on our projects.”

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