Qatar has admitted that nine migrant labourers died last year working on football stadiums for the 2022 Fifa World Cup, taking the total number of deaths in six years to 34, an official report from the “supreme committee” organising the event said on Monday.
The death toll falls far below the over 1,000 that human rights groups say have died due to poor conditions since construction began. According to the Nepalese government, more than 1,400 of its nationals have died working on the project in Qatar since the Gulf State won the contract to host the World Cup in 2010.
There are over 400,000 Nepali and 260,000 Filipino migrant workers in Qatar.
The official figures from the supreme committee, released in its annual report on workers’ welfare report, claims the nine deaths in 2019 were “non-work-related.”
Reasons cited included “cardio-respiratory failure due to natural causes,” “acute heart failure due to natural causes” and “respiratory failure due to tuberculosis.”
In total, four died of natural causes and three more were killed in a bus accident, according to the report.
As well as poor labour protections and a lack of safety equipment and machines, right's groups have pointed to companies making workers toil in high temperatures with few breaks in the sweltering summer heats as a major cause of death.
“We are steadfastly committed to reduce and ultimately eliminate deaths caused by existing medical conditions or ailments… Any loss of life on our programme is deeply saddening, and I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families and kin of those who passed away,” said Hassan Al Thawadi, head of the supreme committee, which says it conducts an investigation into all deaths.
Nepal and the Philippines took steps in June last year to protect workers from both countries against abuses, calling for Qatar to abide by labour standards as stories circulated of migrants who had gone unpaid for months, had their passports confiscated and lived in prison-like spaces with little food or water.
An investigative film by German broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln (WDR) in 2019 interviewed Nepali workers who had not been paid for six months.
“Every day, we only eat bread and drink water; without money, we can’t afford anything else. Month after month, our situation is getting worse,” Dil Prasad, a Nepalese worker tells viewers.
“I can’t do it anymore. I just want to go home. I can’t even call my family in Nepal. If only the company would pay us the money we deserve.”
The report says efforts are being made to ensure “enforcement of minimum salaries, reimbursement of recruitment fees and provision of return air tickets.” Contractors were also pursued to provide “adequate life insurance cover for workers, so as to protect their families in case of natural or accidental death or disability.”
Numerous bereaved families have come forward to say their compensation claims have been ignored. The widow of a Nepalese stadium worker in Qatar who was informed that her husband had died in his sleep in June last year, told The Guardian she has so far received no response to a letter she wrote to Al Thawadi requesting compensation.
The company that employed him offered her 7,000 Qatari riyals [Dh7,045]. “I believe my husband’s life is worth more than 7,000 rials,’ she told the newspaper.