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The human cost of Qatar’s migrant policies

Doha Construction Site
Doha Construction Site

Revelations of the mistreatment of migrants working on the World Cup sites in Qatar continue to bring forward a larger problem in the Middle Eastern nation.

The AFP revealed on Monday that more than 450 Indian migrants have died while working in Qatar over the past two years. The data comes from a Right to Information request filed by AFP to the Indian embassy in Qatar.

Records show that 237 fatalities in 2012 and 218 in 2013 (through December 5). The rates are alarmingly high, adding to the evidence that the conditions for the more than 1.2 million migrant works in the country.

The Guardian determined that 185 Nepalese workers died in 2013. It’s groundbreaking report in September showed the terrible labor conditions faced by Nepalese migrants doing construction work on new stadiums.  Qatar won a bid to host the 2022 World Cup and is undertaking  a significant construction project to prepare.

Workers face slave-like conditions with their rights severely restricted in Qatar, reported the Guardian. Labor abuses, including working extended hours during the mid-day extreme heat, were attributed to the deaths of some of the workers. The concerns led to attention from the world soccer governing body, FIFA, who condemned the conditions in Qatar.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) followed up the reports by estimating that as many as 4,000 workers could die on World Cup sites by the time the event kicks-off if current conditions persist. Some 20 Indian workers die each month, on average.

More than half of the migrant workers come from India, Nepal and Pakistan. The overwhelming nature of work carried out by the migrants are in craft-related trades, such as construction. International migration to Qatar grew at a rate of 11% between 2000 and 2010. The small country is heavily reliant upon migrants. Only 17% of the population in 2010 were native Qataris.

However, Qatari’s make up only 6% of the nation’s workforce.

Labor sectors of migrant workers in Qatar.
Labor sectors of migrant workers in Qatar.
Guardian Data Blog

A follow up investigation by Amnesty International in November added more evidence to the abuses carried out against the migrant workers. Much of the problem, said the report, is in the backwards ‘kafala’ system where sponsor companies have control over when the migrants can travel in and out of Qatar. Workers are essentially trapped in their jobs, even when they want to change companies and when the conditions are too harsh. It is seen by some as a de-facto form of slavery.

“It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, at the time.

There is no evidence that Qatar has made changes to it migrant worker policies, said ITUC’s General Secretary Sharan Burrow, last week.  She urged FIFA to use the World Cup as a leverage point to improve worker rights. She singled out kafala, saying that it needs to be ended in order to make any progress.

“The promise to provide freedom of movement for workers is a sham, as Qatar enforces segregation of workers on a racial basis,” said Burrow. “These standards are built on an old, discredited self-monitoring system which has failed in the past in Bangladesh and other countries where thousands of workers have died.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]