Fifa 2022 World Cup: Is Qatar doing enough to save migrant workers' lives?

Builders and construction vehicles at work on a construction site in Doha. Credit: ITV News/SeanSwann

Since Qatar began constructing venues to host the World Cup in 2022, the country has faced continued criticism over the mounting human cost, as many migrant workers face appalling living and working conditions.

Vast numbers are made to work long hours in searing temperatures for low pay, and live in overcrowded and often squalid accommodation.

A kitchen used by workers at a so-called 'labour camp' in Qatar. Credit: Flickr/ITUC

Following global criticism - prompted by a number of media reports into the issue - Qatar commissioned law firm DLA Piper to investigate.

The company's analysis indicated that of the three biggest migrant populations in Qatar - Nepalese, Indian and Bangladeshi - around 500 had died in 2012 alone.

Read: Workers pay for Qatar's World Cup with their lives

However, this figure does not include the large numbers of migrants from other countries also resident in Qatar.

According to the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC) report The Case Against Qatar:

The Qatari Supreme Committee, which is responsible for the delivery of the 2022 World Cup, notes that these figures apply to the construction industry as a whole - not just to delivery of tournament infrastructure.

It also insists that no worker has died or suffered a major injury on a stadium project.

The coffin of a dead Nepalese construction worker arrives at Kathmandu Airport. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan
A computer generated image of the 'Lusail' stadium being built in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup Credit: Balkis Press/ABACA

Qatar also cites a major report published in medical journal The Lancet in 2012 - which it says shows around 400 deaths might be expected from the country's migrant population each year from cardiovascular disease alone - even if they had stayed in their native countries.

The country's labour and social affairs minister, Dr Abdullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi, confirmed last month that 194 Nepalese people were killed in the country during 2014, but did not explain how they died or if they were working on infrastructure projects.

He claimed the media had inflated the total number of reported migrant worker deaths from countries such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

Critics, though, say that figures cited in the media are actually likely to underestimate the death toll.

Mustafa Qadri, Gulf migrant rights researcher at Amnesty International told ITV News: "There is no question that too many migrant workers have died in Qatar, regardless of the cause."

Credit: PA
Nepalese workers at a crowded camp in Doha. Credit: ITV News

Campaigners point out that deaths are not all the international community should be concerned about.

Last year, ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine visited a Nepalese camp where men slept 18 to a room with no air conditioning.

He found men complaining of rotten food that made them sick, with all those spoken to saying they knew of colleagues who had died in accidents, through overwork or illness.

In addition, some migrants are said to be held ransom by the country's "kafala" system, which ties workers contractually to their employers.

Employers also have control over the workers’ movements as staff have to obtain exit-permits before leaving the country, which can potentially lead to them being exploited or abused.

There are also questions about the speed of progress, despite Qatar's previous assurances that conditions for migrant workers would be improved.

Concerns have continually been raised over the ill treatment of construction workers in Qatar Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

Qadri notes that Amnesty International and the United Nations Special Rapporteur have called on Qatar to carry out a "thorough, independent investigation into the leading causes of migrant worker deaths and identify key measures to address these".

"As far as we are aware that has not been adequately carried out yet," he adds.

The DLA Piper report, commissioned by Qatar, also made a series of recommendations that the government promised to implement when it was published in April 2014. However, to date they have not yet been carried out.

Amnesty International has urged Qatar carry out the following reforms in its report No Extra Time: How Qatar is still failing on workers' rights ahead of the World Cup.

It recommends that leaders:

  • Abolish exit-permits that give employers control over migrant workers’ movements

  • Change the sponsorship or “kafala” system- which ties workers to their employers and encourages forced labour.

  • Drop prohibitive fees for workers to raise court cases against employers

  • Publish the names of exploitative recruiters and employers

  • Grant domestic workers the legal protection of labour rights afforded to other workers.

Migrant workers line-up to get permits to travel Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

Qatar's Ministry of Labour issued a statement claiming work to reform labour laws to try to improve living and pay conditions for foreign workers had already begun.