500 Indian workers dead in Qatar in last two years

Run-up to World Cup in 2022 proving deadly for migrant labour in Qatar, with fatality figures sparking outrage from rights groups

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 10:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 1:28pm

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 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. A further 24 Indians died last month.

These come after The Guardian revealed last month that 185 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar in 2013, taking the total from that country to at least 382 over two years.

Rights groups and politicians said the figures meant soccer's world governing body 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 fuelling 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.

But analysis of the lists of dead Nepalese workers showed that more than two-thirds died of sudden heart failure or workplace accidents.

These statistics could include a range of circumstances including natural causes, and road-safety incidents, as well as a smaller number of workplace incidents

Qatar's Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs said: "Clearly any one death in Qatar or anywhere else is one death too many.

"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."

Nicholas McGeehan, a Gulf researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: "These figures for Indian deaths are a horrendous confirmation that it isn't just Nepalese workers who are dying in Qatar."

Jim Murphy, Britain's shadow international development secretary, said: "Preparations for the 2022 World Cup cannot go on like this - the trickle of worrying reports from the construction sites of Qatar has become a torrent.

"Some of the practices we know are taking place in Qatar amount to forced labour, and there are widespread concerns that the death toll could reach well into the thousands if nothing is done."

Despite the Qatar 2022 organising committee implementing a new charter on stadium construction, and the ministry of labour expanding its inspection programme, rights groups and trade unions have repeated their call for structural change.

In November, Amnesty International warned in a damning report that workers were enduring 12-hour days in sweltering conditions and living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation.

Watch: World Cup can improve 'appalling' Qatar rights record: FIFA

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) 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 ITUC has called the construction 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 there.