More than 450 Indian migrants working in Qatar have died in the last two years, data shows as the Gulf state is under pressure over its rights record ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
In response to a Right to Information request filed by AFP, the Indian embassy in Qatar gave figures detailing the number of deaths in 2012 and the first 11 months of 2013.
On average about 20 migrants died per month, peaking at 27 in August last year. There were 237 fatalities in 2012 and another 218 in 2013 up to December 5.
The embassy did not give details about the circumstances of the deaths or where they occurred.
It also declined to hand over any correspondence between the embassy and the Indian government regarding the treatment of its nationals.
The embassy in Qatar says that the exact number of Indians in Qatar is unknown, but it was estimated at close to 500,000 at the end of 2012, about 26 percent of Qatar’s total population.
The new data comes at the heels of a report by the British newspaper The Guardian published last week that stated that more than 400 Nepalese migrant workers have died so far in various construction sites in Qatar.
Citing a report by the Pravasi Nepali Co-ordination Committee which complied a list of the dead using official Qatari sources, The Guardian noted that organizations fear that the growing death toll “could hit 4,000 by the time the 2022 finals take place.”
Nepali workers amount to around 20 percent of the total migrant workforce in Qatar, which include Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and others from the South Asian subcontinent.
The recent death toll raises concerns and questions over the exact total number of migrant works that have died on construction site throughout the tiny Gulf country since it has won the bid to host the World Cup in 2010.
One case highlighted by The Guardian is that of 23-year-old Noka Bir Moktan who had allegedly died of “sudden cardiac arrest” in October 2013. However, pictures of his corpse show injuries, particularly a collapsed chest, that is suggests gross mistreatment.
Moktan’s family borrowed around $1,700 from a loan shark to pay for the costs of his trip to Qatar, with hopes he would be able to pay it back soon with his earnings. With his death, the family now fears that the loan shark will send Moktan’s two sisters, aged 14 and 16, to work in brothels in Mumbai to pay off the remaining debt.
The treatment and death of workers have set off an on-going public relations crisis by FIFA and Qatar, hoping to ward off criticisms over awarding the tournament to Qatar. FIFA has pledged to carry out “on-the-spot visits” to ensure that workers’ rights were respected, although a timetable has not been set for when such visits would occur.
At the heart of the matter is concerns by human rights organizations and labor groups in regards to Qatar’s kafala employment system, in which workers are under the authority of their sponsors thereby restricting the workers rights and abilities to speak out against mistreatment.
Amnesty International released a damning report damning report in mid-November that highlighted the extent of the exploitation of the work force in the World Cup construction sites.
It claimed that some migrant workers are “victims of forced labor” and face constant abuse by subcontractors employed by construction companies involved.
“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,” Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said at the time the report was released.
On February 11, the Gulf state issued new guidelines aimed at protecting expatriate workers, suggesting they should be paid properly and promptly and housed adequately.