By Arab News
By Sanjay Kumar
The Nepali government said there have been “many deaths” in Qatar, following a TV documentary claim that 1,400 workers have died while helping to build football stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
German broadcaster WDR’s investigative show, “Trapped in Qatar,” exposed the plight of workers who endured squalid living conditions and perilous building sites.
A spokesman for the Labor Ministry said he was unaware of the documentary but confirmed many Nepalis had died in the Gulf state.
“It is a fact that many Nepali workers have lost their lives in Qatar over the years,” Narayan Ragmi told Arab News. “I don’t have any information regarding the documentary right now, I am not in a situation to tell you how many people lost their lives in Qatar. But that many people lost their lives in Qatar, that is true. Since the time we started sending our laborers to Qatar some people have lost their lives. I am not sure whether it is 1,400 or 200 or 300. I must verify this number with the authorities directly concerned with the issue.”
Ragmi said there was a memorandum of understanding with Doha, as well as a bilateral agreement, when it came to Nepali laborers. Workers were briefed before leaving Nepal and went through a pre-departure orientation program, he added.
Accidents and poor living conditions were claiming around 110 lives every year, according to Nepali government figures. Bereaved families of dead workers told WDR they had received no compensation from Doha.
Janak Sapkota, a Katmandu-based journalist who has been reporting on labor migration from Nepal, said workers suffered terribly.
“Most of the international companies working in Qatar do not meet safety requirements and as a result many construction workers lose their lives through this gross negligence of proper safety,” he told Arab News. “The living conditions are also very bad, the salary is too low and also exploitative. A few years back the plight of Nepali migrant workers in Qatar was very bad but, after the matter was raised and debate took place around that, Qatari companies took steps to respect the rights of the workers, but they are still not sufficient.”
Barun Ghimire, a Nepal-based human rights activist and lawyer, said employers in Qatar had failed to create working conditions to safeguard the health of workers.
“There have been reports that many Nepali workers have died either in the construction of stadiums or something related to stadiums in Qatar. We tried to establish a case against employers, but they are difficult to investigate because of the chain brokers involved in recruiting the workers,” he told Arab News, referring to people or firms who organized recruitment.
He said up to 1,300 migrant workers departed Nepal on a daily basis for Gulf-based jobs, and that a substantial number went to Qatar. He added that several dead migrant workers were repatriated to Nepal every day.
“I have also found that there is no proper documentation for Nepali workers as a result it’s not easy to establish the culpability of the company. It is difficult to establish the accountability of the companies involved in the preparation of the FIFA World Cup. A lack of transparency in the recruitment process allows companies to escape litigation.”
A journalist who was posted in Qatar four years ago — and did not wish to disclose his name — said there were other problems that needed addressing too. “Whether one agrees with the casualty figures of the German documentary or not, there have been cases of delayed payments to workers, a high number of heart attack cases, delayed medical responses and bad living conditions,” he told Arab News.
He said living conditions in migrant worker camps had improved and that this change might be because of international pressure.