Despite Qatar’s promises to improve conditions, Nepalese migrants have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014
Nepalese migrants building the infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014 – despite Qatar’s promises to improve their working conditions, the Guardian has learned.
The figure excludes deaths of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers, raising fears that if fatalities among all migrants were taken into account the toll would almost certainly be more than one a day.
Qatar had vowed to reform the industry after the Guardian exposed the desperate plight of many of its migrant workers last year. The government commissioned an investigation by the international law firm DLA Piper and promised to implement recommendations listed in a report published in May.
But human rights organisations have accused Qatar of dragging its feet on the modest reforms, saying not enough is being done to investigate the effect of working long hours in temperatures that regularly top 50C.
The Nepalese foreign employment promotion board said 157 of its workers in Qatar had died between January and mid-November this year – 67 of sudden cardiac arrest and eight of heart attacks. Thirty-four deaths were recorded as workplace accidents.
Figures sourced separately by the Guardian from Nepalese authorities suggest the total during that period could be as high as 188. In 2013, the figure from January to mid-November was 168.
“We know that people who work long hours in high temperatures are highly vulnerable to fatal heat strokes, so obviously these figures continue to cause alarm,” said Nicholas McGeehan, the Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“It’s Qatar’s responsibility to determine if deaths are related to living and working conditions, but Qatar flatly rejected a DLA Piper recommendation to launch an immediate investigation into these deaths last year.”
Some within Qatar suggest the cardiac arrest death rates could be comparable to those among Nepalese workers of a similar age at home. The Indian embassy argued this year that the number of deaths was in line with the average in their home country. But in the absence of robust research or any attempt to catalogue the cause of death, human rights organisations say it is impossible to properly compare figures.
A series of stories in the Guardian have shown that migrant workers from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere were dying in their hundreds. While some were listed as having been killed in workplace accidents, many more were said to have died from sudden, unexplained cardiac arrest.
The government confirmed in the DLA Piper report that 964 workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh had died while living and working in the Gulf state in 2012 and 2013.
The report recommended that Qatar do more to record and investigate the causes of death among the migrant population but it has made little outward progress.
After it was published, Qatar said it would reform the kafala system that keeps workers tied to their employer, and better enforce laws that require contractors to provide humane living conditions and ban them from seizing passports.
But the system that Qatar proposed to replace kafala would still leave workers tied to their employer for the length of their contract, which could be as much as five years.