How many migrant workers have died in Qatar? What we know about the human cost of the 2022 World Cup

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The death of migrant workers in Qatar in the build-up to this year’s World Cup has sparked criticism around the world. While tournament organizers have set the official tally at 40, Guardian estimates put the figure in the thousands. Here we explore key questions about an issue that has overshadowed the World Cup for many fans.

Why is this World Cup so controversial?

World soccer’s governing body FIFA awarded Qatar – a slightly smaller country than Connecticut with poor soccer pedigree – the tournament in December 2010 in a bidding process that US authorities said was rife with corruption . The shock decision has sparked a building frenzy in the wealthy nation, which this year became the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

The tournament’s high profile drew attention to Qatar’s dubious human rights record, including its hostility towards LGBT people, and the dangerous and exploitative conditions faced by the large number of migrant workers who built the infrastructure .

This is a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years the Guardian has reported on Qatar 2022 issues, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football homepage for those who want to delve into issues beyond the pitch.

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“Migrant workers were indispensable to making the 2022 World Cup possible, but it cost many migrant workers and their families dearly who not only made personal sacrifices but also faced widespread wage theft, injuries and thousands of deaths inexplicable”. said Rothna Begum, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

How many migrant workers are there in Qatar and where do they come from?

The population of Qatar is approximately three million, of which approximately 88% are foreign nationals. The migrant workforce is estimated at two million, equal to 95% of the workforce. About one million people are employed in construction and another 100,000 are domestic workers. Mostly men, a large percentage are from the Philippines and South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

What are they building?

The first country in the Middle East to host the World Cup finals, Qatar has spent between $220 billion and $300 billion on infrastructure projects, as it uses the world’s largest sporting event as a nation-building catalyst.

At a cost of $6.5 billion, Qatar has built seven new stadiums for the tournament and refurbished an eighth. Other construction projects have included major upgrades to public transport and roads, and new skyscrapers, hotels and homes, as well as Lusail, a new host city for the final.

Related: Welcome to Lusail: Lego-city of gods and one of the strangest places on earth

What is the latest death toll?

The official tally among workers at the World Cup sites is 37 non-work-related deaths and just three from work-related accidents, but many believe that to be vastly fewer.

The problem is that it is difficult to associate a certain figure with the tournament and to estimate how many deaths were avoidable given the lack of available information. Fifa and Qatari organizers have been trying to steer World Cup-related construction away from more general projects, although it is likely many of these would not have been commissioned without the tournament-inspired boom. And they had a tight deadline to be ready for the influx of around 1.2 million football fans.

People watch a match in a ‘fan zone’ designed for migrant workers on the outskirts of Doha. Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA

Overall, according to the government, between 2010 and 2019, 15,021 non-Qataris died in the country. An analysis by the Guardian in February 2021 found that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since the tournament was awarded. The death records were not classified by occupation or place of work. The government said 30,000 foreign workers were employed to build the World Cup stadiums.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) found that in 2020, 50 people died at work, 500 were seriously injured and 37,600 suffered minor to moderate injuries.

How do workers die?

Average high temperatures in Qatar exceed 100F (37.7C) for five months of the year. Although the tournament has been moved from summer to winter for the safety and comfort of players, officials and fans, workers are at risk of accidents, heat-related illnesses and other ailments related to the physical and mental strains of working long hours. hours in extreme heat. Suicide is also a concern. Construction workers often live in squalid conditions which are in stark contrast to the opulence of many of the structures they build.

Related: The Ghanaian workers of Qatar cheer the Black Stars: ‘Here we have suffered, we should be able to have fun’

The Qatari government said “the death rate among these communities is within the expected range for population size and demographics.” But statistics show that a large number of young and middle-aged men from Nepal who allegedly went through health checks before being allowed to enter Qatar have died of heart problems.

Following a report by Pete Pattisson of The Guardian, a 2021 Amnesty International report accused Qatar of “regularly [issuing] death certificates for migrant workers without conducting proper investigations, instead attributing the deaths to “natural causes” or loosely termed “heart failure” – making it impossible for bereaved families to claim compensation.

The organization found that as many as 70% of migrant deaths are classified inaccurately, with Guardian data suggesting that 69% of deaths among Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi workers were classified as natural. The ILO report states that falls from heights and road accidents were the leading causes of serious injuries.

In 2021 the Guardian highlighted the deaths of workers such as Gangaram Mandal, a Nepalese worker who arrived in Qatar in 2018 to support his wife and seven daughters. He borrowed money to pay a hiring fee, so he earned the equivalent of a dollar a day. After two years he got sick at the end of a summer shift. His death was classified as “heart failure, natural causes”.

Related: David Squires on… death of Qatar World Cup worker from ‘natural causes’

What did the Qatari authorities do?

The country has introduced labor law reforms over the past five years, though critics charge they don’t go far enough to protect workers and that enforcement is patchy. “Thousands of workers across projects are still facing issues such as delayed or unpaid wages, denial of rest days, unsafe working conditions, barriers to job change and limited access to justice, while the deaths of thousands of workers remain not investigated,” according to Amnesty. In 2021, a minimum wage for all workers of about $275 a month went into effect.

What did the football authorities say?

Teams like Denmark and the Netherlands have been far more vocal in their criticism of working conditions and human rights than FIFA, which banned players from wearing rainbow ‘OneLove’ armbands. Shortly before the tournament, the president of Fifa, Gianni Infantino, urged the teams to “focus on football”.

Infantino later said Fifa deserved credit for influencing Qatar to raise standards, including abolishing its abusive “kafala” worker sponsorship scheme, and said criticism of the country reeked of Western hypocrisy.

Concerns about LGBT rights, forced labor and unsafe conditions also marked the previous World Cup, in Russia in 2018. A report by trade union group Building and Wood Workers’ International found 21 construction workers died building stadiums in Russia, mainly due to falling from a height or being hit by falling equipment.

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