Death and Despair for Migrant Workers in Qatar

28 May 2015
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THE 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup will kill more Indians than the number of players it will host. This is what Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation said last year, when news of Qatari human rights violations made headlines. A thousand Indians had already died, and a year later, we've only rescued Indians from the Gulf country when bombs fell, but ignored the darker, hidden world of Indian migrants in these nations.

In 2013, a Doha hospital reported that over a 1,000 workers were admitted to the trauma unit because of falling from heights, and a "significant" number of them died. Working 12 hours a day in 50 degree heat, without enough water, make for fatal working conditions. Many reported having lower salaries (which were rarely or never paid), having their passports taken away, and working seven days a week. Often there's no written proof of employment terms. This is the Kafala system, which forces migrant workers to depend on their sponsors for pretty much everything. Seizing their passport and visa, these sponsors conveniently terminate the possibility of workers escaping. As the 2022 deadline for the World Cup approaches, and there is an influx of migrant labourers to build facilities for the tournament, things are getting worse.

Migrant workers live in overcrowded accommodation with no air conditioning (a necessity in the scorching heat of the Middle East), and are exposed to overflowing sewage and uncovered septic tanks. Many are dumped and forgotten in squalid accommodations by companies who promised them a better life.

Some excerpts from an International Trade Union Confederation Case study: "For three months, I and 15 others who arrived together were forced to sleep on the floor on a thin mattress. We complained to the Qatar National Human Rights Committee about this and were moved into another accommodation. But even now eight people share one bedroom, sixteen people share a bathroom and thirty-five people share a kitchen... The kitchen is not hygienic, the bedrooms are crowded, the drainage in the showers is clogged up and most importantly there is no safety equipment or emergency exits in the building, which puts our lives under serious risk."

The Indian embassy reported that 237 Indians died in Qatar in 2012, and 191 in 2013 - many from "unnatural" heart failure. The year before, 169 Nepalese had died here. If they don't die, many will kill themselves, due to mounting debts and not being able to return home.

Despite the high death count of Indian labourers in Qatar, the Indian embassy in Qatar says that it is "quite normal", according to Amnesty International. Nikhil Eapen, Spokesperson, Amnesty International India, had written last year on their website about the government's aloof stance: "Instead of simply saying that such deaths are normal, the Indian government should provide clearer and more transparent information because at this point, we are unable to say how these deaths took place - whether on construction sites, in labour camps, road accidents or as a result of natural causes."

Or is there an ulterior motive? In December last year, Prince of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani had spoken about committing 1 lakh crore rupees to Modi's goal of 'smart cities'. With such a massive investment, maybe the government has chosen to sideline what may seem like a handful of Indians, for the bigger deal.

(Source: indiatimes May 15, 2015)
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