Migrant worker deaths: The dark underbelly of Qatar Football World Cup

Bharat Bhushan

Two weeks before the football World Cup begins in Qatar, the forcible eviction of migrant workers from dozens of buildings in Doha’s Al Mansoura neighbourhood made headlines. The evictions were a bid to make Doha look like another international city in the first world. In some cases, the migrant workers were reportedly given just two hours’ notice to vacate the area.

Thousands of football fans from around the globe will stay, November 20 onwards, in the neighbourhood where the hundreds of migrant workers lived. The airports, railway tracks and roads they will use to travel to the seven world class football stadiums have been built by migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and elsewhere in Asia and Africa. What they will not know is how they were treated, their working conditions or how many died to make the tournament possible. Bharat Bhushan writes.

Migrant workers comprise nearly 85% of Qatar’s three million population. The World Cup is expected to add $17 billion to the Qatari economy but migrant rights activists say that hardly any of it will be used to compensate the migrant workers dead or injured in the run up to the event.

As Qatar steps back from recognising the dimensions of the problem, it is often the home countries of the migrant workers that have stepped in. In India, for example, the Central government and the Telangana state government have provided compensation to the families of Indian migrant workers who died during construction of World Cup infrastructure. However, the number of work related deaths remain uncertain, making it difficult for even host countries to act.

A report released earlier this year by Amnesty International claimed that from the time Qatar was selected as the host of the World Cup in 2010 by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), and 2019, the total number of migrant deaths was more than 15,021, including children. Another report by “The Guardian” in February 2021 claimed that the number of migrants who died in Qatar between 2010 and 2020 was at least 6,751. This was probably an underestimate because it was based on information from the embassies of South Asian countries only and did not count the deaths of migrant workers from Philippines and African countries. It also did not include migrant workers who had to leave their jobs after developing health ailments and subsequently died in their home countries.

Although the data of migrant deaths in Qatar is not categorised by place of work or occupation, migrant rights activists in the Gulf have pointed out that a significant proportion of migrant workers who went to Qatar from 2011 onwards were there only because Qatar had embarked on an infrastructure push related to hosting the the FIFA World Cup in 2022….