At least 6,500 South Asian migrant workers died in Qatar from 2011-2020, the Guardian reported Tuesday, citing government data from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Qatar.
The report suggests allegedly lax safety protocols surrounding Qatar’s construction of new stadiums and infrastructure as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup were the cause of many of the deaths.
“Data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka revealed there were 5,927 deaths of migrant workers in the period 2011–2020. Separately, data from Pakistan’s embassy in Qatar reported a further 824 deaths of Pakistani workers, between 2010 and 2020,” according to the U.K. newspaper.
The figures do not account for the deaths of migrant workers from the Philippines and Kenya, which both send a significant number of laborers to Qatar annually. Nor do the figures include migrant worker deaths in Qatar that occurred in the final months of 2020.
The Guardian directly linked 37 migrant worker deaths “to construction of [FIFA] World Cup stadiums” in Qatar. The FIFA organizing committee designated 34 of the 37 deaths as “non-work related.” The newspaper questioned the classification, however, claiming the term “non-work related” has been used to describe deaths that occurred on the job in Qatar, “including a number of workers who have collapsed and died on stadium construction sites.”
The listed causes of migrant workers’ deaths include “multiple blunt injuries due to a fall from height; asphyxia due to hanging; undetermined cause of death due to decomposition,” according to Qatari government documents. The most frequently listed cause of death for Qatar’s migrant workers between 2011-2020 was “natural death,” which is commonly attributed to acute heart or respiratory failure in Qatar.
An estimated 69 percent of deaths among Indian, Nepali, and Bangladeshi migrant workers in Qatar over the past decade are categorized as “natural” according to the Guardian‘s analysis. The newspaper noted “such classifications, which are usually made without an autopsy, often fail to provide a legitimate medical explanation for the underlying cause of these deaths.”
Qatar’s intense summer heat was found to be a likely contributor to many migrant worker deaths in the Persian Gulf country in 2019. Migrant workers in Qatar suffered from significant heat stress when working outside for at least four months of 2019, according to research commissioned by the U.N.’s International Labor Organization.
The Guardian‘s analysis of migrant worker deaths in Qatar over the past decade garnered a response from the Qatari government this week.
“The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population. However, every lost life is a tragedy, and no effort is spared in trying to prevent every death in our country,” the Qatari government said through a spokesperson. The total number of migrant workers in Qatar is estimated at two million.
The official said that all Qatari citizens and foreign nationals have access to “free first-class healthcare” while residing in the country. The spokesperson added that Qatar has documented a steady decline in its guest-worker mortality rate over the past ten years as a direct result of government-led health and safety reforms to the state labor system.