Qatar update: Scale of Indian workers’ deaths revealed

19 February 2014

More than 500 Indian migrant workers have died in the past two years while working in Qatar as it prepares for the 2022 World Cup.

The figures were given by the Indian embassy in Qatar in response to a Right to Information request by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

They show that 237 Indians died in 2012 and 241 in 2013. A further 24 are reported to have lost their lives last month.

Altogether, 717 Indians are believed to have lost their lives since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in December 2010. The circumstances of the deaths have not been given.

Indian workers make up about 20% of the 1.2 million workers preparing infrastructure for the tournament. The scale of the effort reflects the scale of the work being undertaken, as the Gulf state scrambles to build cities, metro lines, roads and airports from scratch.

A senior executive at one of Qatar’s largest banks told a conference in Bahrain last month that the Gulf state would spend £123bn on infrastructure projects in the next four years alone.

In October last year, GCR reported that the CIOB in Qatar was backing a contractually binding welfare code for migrant labour that could be contractually binding.

Stephen Lines, the Doha-based CIOB President for Middle East, also urged construction professionals in to challenge unacceptable welfare standards and adopt welfare as a key responsibility on projects.

That move followed reports of deaths among Nepalese construction workers, dangerous working conditions and alleged human rights abuses among the migrant workforce helping to modernise the Gulf state ahead of 2022.

Construction workers from Bangladesh take a break near new highrise office buildings and hotels under construction in Doha (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In a letter to the European parliament, Qatar’s ministry of foreign affairs last week said it had increased the number of inspections and sanctioned 500 companies in January alone.

A comprehensive charter has been published for contractors working specifically on World Cup stadiums, with the organising committee insisting it can act as a beacon for change.

The Qatar National Human Rights Committee said that the deaths of the Indian workers was "normal", given the size of the community.

Ali bin Sumaikh al-Maari, the head of the committee, told AFP. "If we look at the numbers of Qataris who died of natural causes over the past two years, we see that numbers of deaths among the Indian community are normal."

He demanded clarifications on the circumstances of the reported deaths, insisting that there is a "campaign against Qatar".

The country’s ministry of labour and social affairs to Al-Jazeera that "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," it said.

He added: "We are working to understand the causes of these deaths. These statistics could include a range of circumstances including natural causes, and road safety incidents, as well as a smaller number of workplace incidents."

The Guardian reports that information on how many of Qatar’s migrant workers are dying has been limited to the Nepalese, partly because it was easier for NGOs to count the number of coffins returning to Kathmandu airport than those repatriated to India.

As with workers from other nations, including Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iran, official information has been hard to come by.

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