15-21 August 2014 #720

Sudden death

Pete Pattisson

On a recent visit to Qatar, I was given a tour of the accommodation housing the workers building the first venue for the 2022 World Cup, the Al Wakrah stadium. It was immaculate. Tidy bedrooms, clean toilets, social areas with flat-screen tvs and even a games room with table football.

It was in stark contrast to any other workers’ accommodation I had seen in Qatar, and it felt too good to be true. It was. A few days later I went back to interview the workers. Some of them told me they were being paid the equivalent of just Rs 800 a day. Others were earning as little as Rs 77 an hour for overtime work.

Qatar's World Cup 2022 workers: 'We may as well just die here' | Guardian Investigations

I left feeling despondent. How could workers building a showcase World Cup venue, in one of the richest countries in the world, be paid so little? Is the committee organising the World Cup incompetent, or just indifferent? On the same trip, I met a group of workers from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, who had fitted out two floors of lavish offices in the Al Bidda tower in Doha. The offices are currently being occupied by the same World Cup organising committee, but some of the men who built them have not been paid for over a year.

The offices are finished in glossy white stone and etched glass, but the workers are living six to a room in a crowded, dirty building. “I want to go home but I don’t have any money,” one of the men from Nepal told me, “Who would stay here if they had money?”

The Qatari authorities were informed about the plight of these men in November 2013, and yet they have still not received any salary.

Some leading figures in Qatar seem to be in denial about the problems facing migrant workers. In a recent interview the head of Qatar’s elite Aspire sports foundation, Khalid Al Sulaiteen, claimed migrant labourers live in, “a very comfortable and healthy environment”.

This appears to extend to the number of migrants dying in Qatar. According to Qatar’s own figures, 882 migrants from India and Nepal died in 2012 and 2013. The vast majority of these deaths were classified as ‘sudden death, cause unknown’.

I met the colleagues of Rishi Kandel, who died in May 2014. They told me that he went to sleep one night, and simply never woke up. But despite the hundreds of unexplained deaths, neither the Qatari state nor the Nepal government have commissioned any research in to why so many migrants are dying in this way.

he Nepal government, manpower agencies and construction companies are all partly to blame for the exploitation of Nepal’s migrant labourers. However, the real problem is the utter indifference and outright discrimination that characterises Qatar’s treatment of its migrant workforce.

What is really needed is a change in the attitude of Qatari state, so that they no longer see migrants as a disposable people, there simply to help them achieve their World Cup ambitions, but recognise them as human beings with equal rights.

Pete Pattisson is a British journalist based in Nepal who writes for The Guardian.

Read also:

Workers in exile, Clare Hennig

A glimmer of hope

Helping workers abroad

Too little, too late, Bhrikuti Rai and Sunir Pandey

HRW: Collective push for migrants rights

Working to death, Dewan Rai

Economic class, Dewan Rai

At what cost the remittance economy?, Dewan Rai