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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Misleading: Critics slam ‘deceptive’ Guardian report on migrant worker deaths


Experts say western media outlets have engaged in a targeted propaganda campaign since Qatar won the World Cup hosting rights in 2010.  

A report published by The Guardian has been criticised for a misleading headline that links deaths among Qatar’s South Asian community with the country’s 2022 World Cup.

The British publication’s dubious article, headlined, “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup” purports to blame the “shocking” death rate with the start of the World Cup 2022 journey a decade ago, without clarifying the reasons for the deaths.

“More than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar” since it won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago, the report states.

The Guardian failed to cite official medical records explaining the circumstances of the deaths and whether or not the deceased worked on any World Cup related projects, but goes on to quote a labour rights in the Gulf experts who says its “likely that many workers who died were employed on these World Cup infrastructure projects”.

Speaking to Doha News, experts say the “deceptive” reporting is part of major Western media propaganda campaign against Qatar.

“Some Western newspapers publish such stories from time to time, with the aim of discrediting or demonising Qatar. The topic of Qatar hosting the World Cup is often used to spread such lopsided stories, at least in the absence of the Qatari viewpoint,” said Dr. Nawaf Altamimi, media expert and journalism professor at Doha institute for Graduate Studies.

The article reads that an average of 12 migrant workers from the south Asian nations have died each week since December of 2010. Statistics obtained from the embassies do not include just migrant workers, but rather the total number of all deaths of nationals of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, across all occupations. These figures include those who passed away due to natural causes, chronic illness or even traffic accidents.

Read also: Qatar’s new labour laws: After celebration must come work

Some critics have also accused the Guardian report of racism for automatically assuming the South Asians that died were employed as labourers working at World Cup stadium projects, when in reality South Asian nationals work across all fields and sectors in Qatar.

Analysts say such reporting falls far from objective reporting. 

“The disinformation appears in the Guardian report from the title itself, which tries to amplify the impact of the number on the recipient and link the number of victims to the World Cup projects,” Altamimi added.

“Such an approach to using numbers and data is one that often tries to amplify the impact of stories by linking what might be true to propaganda purposes, this is clear when you dive deeper into the report.”

According to the report, a number of 37 deaths occured linked directly to the construction of the World Cup stadiums, 34 of them are classified as “non-work related” by the event’s organising committee. 

Several concerns were raised by human rights groups connecting the “non-work related” deaths to the extreme heat and humidity of Qatar’s harsh summer weather. 

Whilst the Guardian failed to provide clear and direct information regarding the occupation of the people who died in the past decade, the Supreme Committee’s numbers seem to also lack clarification to what is considered to be “work related”.

It is this unfortunate failure by authorities in Qatar to provide transparency and updated statistics that allow for such reports to emerge and circulate.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy [SC] has confirmed in a statement to Doha News called the numbers inaccurate.

“We deeply regret all of these tragedies and investigated each incident to ensure lessons were learned. We have always maintained transparency around this issue and dispute inaccurate claims around the number of workers who have died on our projects.”

In response to The Guardian’s article, the Government Communications Office issued a statement confirming the wellbeing of everyone in Qatar is of the utmost importance to authorities.

“Millions more have lived in Qatar during the last 10 years and returned home. All have contributed to Qatar’s economy and sent home remittances that support their families and home nation,” the GCO said.

“Unfortunately, of the millions of residents from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal who have lived in Qatar from 2011 to 2019, a very small percentage have sadly passed away. Although each loss of life is upsetting, the mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population.

The statement said Qatar has transformed its healthcare system to meet the medical needs of its diverse population over the past two decades, saying it invests more per capita in healthcare than any other GCC country. 

“All citizens and foreign nationals have access to free first-class healthcare, and we continue to implement policies to further improve the health of the population.”

‘Historic’ reforms

Qatar has engaged in sweeping reforms since rights organisations have shed light on its widespread mistreatment of migrant workers.

In the past year alone, the government introduced several historic labour reforms to tackle unjust treatment of migrant workers across the country, including ditching the ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC), dismantling the controversial kafala system completely and providing protection for workers in the country.

Read also: Qatar says labour reforms ‘far from complete’ following Amnesty ‘Reality Check’ migrant report

Authorities also set a minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals (QAR), which applies for all workers of all nationalities in both, private and governmental sectors, including domestic workers.

“Since 2010, there has been a consistent decline in the mortality rate as a result of the health and safety reforms we have introduced,” the GCO statement added, noting there are strict punishments, including jail time, for business owners who violate safety standards or limits on summer working hours.”

Though the reforms were considered significant, the government has also admitted “more work needs to be done.”

Media expert Altamimi also said the imbalance of reporting in the media “appears in the silence about the efforts made by Qatar with regard to all workers’ rights in World Cup projects.

“Qatar has come a long way in improving the conditions of foreign workers, not only in World Cup projects, but in all Qatari sectors, and has imposed many restrictions and penalties on companies in the event of non-compliance with state instructions,” he added.

More improvements needed

Despite the significant reforms, exploitation of of labour workers remains a problem in Qatar, with several human rights organisations calling on Doha to ensure laws are implemented on the ground to ensure progress.

In November Amnesty International released a report urging Qatar to “strengthen enforcement of its labour reforms and end impunity for abusive employers if it is to fully deliver on its promises to protect workers’ rights.”

“In recent years Qatar has introduced a series of major reforms, including amending laws to give workers freedom of movement and allow them greater job mobility. It has also promised better pay and access to justice in cases of abuse,”  said Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International in the report. 

“But many migrant workers have not yet benefited from these changes. Until these reforms are fully enforced, many will remain trapped in a cycle of exploitation,” he added.

More recently, members of the Shura Council were criticised by rights group for introducing recommendations that would see the reversal of gains made by the labour reforms. 

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