As World Cup draws closer, Nepalis continue to die in QatarA recent investigation by the Guardian has shown that at least 1,641 Nepali workers have died in the Gulf country in the last decade.
Hundreds of Nepali migrant workers have lost their lives in Qatar since the country won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago, a new investigation has shown.
An investigation by the Guardian has shown that out of 6,500 migrant workers from the South Asian countries who lost their lives in Qatar in the last decade, as many as 1,641 were from Nepal.
An average of 12 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died every week since the night in December 2010 when Qatar was named the host nation for FIFA World Cup 2022, the British paper has reported.
These death figures have once again highlighted the plight of migrant workers recruited by the Gulf nation in the run-up to the global football extravaganza.
“The latest Guardian report doesn’t surprise me at all. It merely states that deaths of migrant workers have continued as before,” Barun Ghimire, a human rights lawyer, told the Post.
He says migrant workers will continue to die and suffer if the concerned governments do nothing to address the situation.
This is not the first time the Guardian has reported on the sorry state of millions of migrants working in unsafe conditions, leading to their untimely deaths.
In 2013, the paper had investigated and uncovered similar working and living conditions of migrant workers, calling them World Cup ‘slaves’. The Guardian report had predicted that at the current death rate, the construction of all FIFA stadiums would leave 4,000 migrant workers dead.
In the period of 11 years between 2008-2019, a total of 7,467 Nepalis have died while working abroad, according to the data of the Foreign Employment Board, the government body that works for the welfare of migrant workers. Of the total deaths of Nepali migrants abroad, 1,461 deaths—the second-highest number—was reported from Qatar.
The latest Guardian report states that most deaths of Indian and Nepali migrant workers in Qatar were reported as ‘natural deaths’, often attributed to a sudden and unexplained heart or respiratory failure. The investigation found that 48 percent of Nepali workers’ deaths were classified as ‘natural deaths’.
According to Rameshwar Nepal, a labour migration researcher and executive director at Equidem Research Nepal, a human rights research organisation, these so-called ‘natural deaths’ are in fact not natural at all.
“Young and healthy Nepalis dying every year cannot be seen as natural. These workers are dying in road accidents, workplace accidents, of suicide, from falling from heights and even sudden cardiac arrest, which is related to working in the heat outside and sleeping in air-conditioned rooms,” said Nepal. “These deaths also show the inadequacy of pre-departure orientation training.”
The Post investigation in 2020 had also shown that hundreds of young and healthy Nepalis die sudden deaths in labour destination countries like Qatar but what is killing them remains largely unknown.
“For several years, we have known that these are preventable deaths and an act of homicide. The concerned governments have to be responsible for preventing such deaths and finding out what is killing them,” said Ghimire. “Responding to our petition, the Supreme Court had ordered that the government work to minimise the risk of migrant workers’ deaths and make post-mortem compulsory in case of natural or sudden deaths. However, reforms have not been implemented and responsible authorities have not acted to minimise such deaths.”
Ghimire, the human rights lawyer, says the Nepal government’s inaction to protect its workers and the host nations’ failure to safeguard the rights of migrant workers are the main reasons behind the continued deaths of workers abroad.
Over the years, Qatar has invited massive international criticism for the ill-treatment of migrants on its soil who are building the required infrastructure for the Gulf state.
Nepali migrant workers too have been subjected to similar exploitations, like payment denial by their employers and unsafe living conditions.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has further worsened their conditions, as several reports have called Qatar a ‘coronavirus prison’ after workers were trapped inside their camps with higher chances of infections.
In mid-April, amidst the pandemic, Amnesty International had also accused the Qatari authorities of using the global pandemic as a cover to expel over 400 Nepali workers illegally.
Later, the same rights group found that dozens of migrant workers from several countries, including Nepal, working for a FIFA World Cup stadium project in Qatar were unpaid for several months.
The incident showed that not much had changed for migrant workers in the gas-rich country despite its commitment to improve the conditions of migrant workers.
The Human Rights Watch, another rights group, in a report in August last year said as the World Cup dates draw closer, Qatar has made little progress in protecting migrant workers on its soil despite its commitments.
Nepali migrant rights activists say deaths of migrant workers will continue if nothing drastic takes place, which is very unlikely since the FIFA event is just around the corner.
According to Ghimire, at a time when the host nation has failed to protect workers, participating countries and footballers should come forward to secure the rights of poor migrants who are building the stage for them.
“If nations cannot, then global football stars like Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who are also the goodwill ambassadors of various social campaigns, should speak up to bring the issue to the global attention,” Ghimire said.
Both Ghimire and Nepal feel the upcoming football event will be watched by families of migrant workers who lost their lives with heavy hearts.
“While celebrating the mega event, it will remind labour-sending countries like Nepal of the thousands of workers who died so the event could come to life,” said Nepal. “The FIFA World Cup will haunt the families and friends of those migrants for a long time.”
The showdown will begin from November 21 to December 18 in 2022. Qatar will be the first country in the Arab world to host the event.
“Years later, people will regret in retrospect for not speaking up against the workers’ exploitation. For me, the blood of these migrants will remain in the World Cup trophy forever,” Ghimire told the Post.