Bad heart, or heat? Rights group calls on Qatar to investigate deaths

Human Rights Watch has called on Qatar to "thoroughly investigate" worker deaths to uncover the true scale of heat fatalities.

The group issued the demand last week after a series of reports suggested that hundreds of migrant workers are dying from heat with the cause left unreported.

In July, research published in the journal Cardiology looked at the deaths of around 1,300 Nepalese workers between 2009 and 2017. While many deaths are passed off as "cardiac arrest", this study concluded that a high proportion were due to heat stress, and that hundreds could have survived with better heat protection measures.  

Qatari law prohibits autopsies except where crime may be involved or the deceased might have been ill. 

This led newspaper The Guardian to question 1,345 deaths of Indian workers in Qatar between 2012 and August 2018, which were classified as "natural".

Qatar already bans manual labour in unshaded areas between 11.30am and 3pm for eleven weeks between 15 June and 31 August.

But separate analysis by the Guardian of Qatari weather data over nine years showed that even working in approved hours during the period – and in weeks before and after the period – exposed workers to potentially lethal temperatures.

"The sudden and unexpected deaths of often young and healthy migrant workers in Qatar have gone uninvestigated by the Qatari authorities, in apparent disregard for workers’ lives," said the organisation’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.  

"Qatar cannot claim to uphold migrant workers’ rights as long as it ignores urgent and repeated calls for lifesaving reforms that protect workers form the heat."

Qatar hit back, saying its reforms meant it led the Gulf region on workers’ health and safety.

Government spokesman Sheikh Jassim bin Mansour Al-Thani said: "Qatar has worked relentlessly for years…to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all workers" and that ‘to suggest otherwise is false and misleading."

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail

Image: Workers sit in shade in Doha, Qatar (Alex Sergeev/ BY-SA 3.0)

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  1. Regardless of if they lead the Gulf region in Health and Safety surely their morals would lead them to question over 2000 deaths ?

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