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Friday, January 21, 2022

Qatar slams Amnesty’s ‘sensationalist’ claims over migrant worker deaths


Qatar has been engaging with the UN’s International Labour Organization [ILO] since 2017 under a technical agreement to support the implementation of its historic labour reforms.

Amnesty International has released a new 56-page report accusing Qatari authorities of failing to investigate the preventable deaths of “thousands of migrant workers” over the past decade, which it said were linked to unsafe and hot working conditions.

Titled “In the Prime of their Lives”, the report said Qatari authorities issued “death certificates for migrant workers without conducting adequate investigations” and attributing them to “natural causes” or “cardiac failures”.

“These death certifications, described by one leading pathologist as ‘meaningless’, rule out the possibility of compensation for bereaved families, many of whom are already facing financial difficulties after losing their main breadwinner,” read one part of the report.

Amnesty reviewed government data “on thousands of deaths” and specifically analysed 18 death certificates issued between 2017 and 2021 and interviewed families of six male migrants who died between the age of 30 and 40.

Out of the death certificates reviewed by the rights group, 15 did not provide information about the underlying causes and used vague reasoning such as “acute heart failure natural causes”, “heart failure unspecified” and “acute respiratory failure due to natural causes”.

“Similar phrases were used in reports for more than half of the 35 deaths recorded as ‘non-work related’ on World Cup facilities since 2015—suggesting meaningful investigations were unlikely to have been carried out in these cases,” added the report.

Responding to Amnesty international, a spokesperson from the Qatari Government Communications Office [GCO] rejected the report, saying that the injury and mortality statistics published by the Gulf state “are in line with international best practice”.

The GCO said that Amnesty had insisted that Qatar should go beyond the international standards in an unjustified manner, describing the report as “flawed”.

“After receiving the initial findings of the report, the GCO asked Amnesty to provide publicly sourced data from other governments that clearly showed mortality rates disaggregated by age, sex, occupation, nationality, date of death, and cause of death,” read the statement by Qatar’s government, noting that the rights group did not respond to the request.

Qatar has come too far to give in to pressure from business community

“Such accusations are inflammatory and designed to cause sensation in the media. They do nothing to bring about positive changes on the ground,” the GCO added.

Commenting on post-mortem examination, the Qatari government said this is available upon request by immediate family members or by the authorities in cases where the medical examinations fail to adequately determine the cause of death.

“In most cases, families refuse an autopsy due to their desire to have the body repatriated as quickly as possible for the completion of religious burial rites. In some circumstances, families refuse to eat or drink until the remains of a loved one have been properly buried or cremated,” said the GCO.

According to the statement, the mortuary management at Hamad Medical Corporation [HMC] has implemented guidelines “to ensure the respect of cultural or religious preferences concerning the storage, handling, transportation, or presentation of the deceased person”.

The latest Amnesty report comes ahead of an upcoming report by the UN’s International Labour Organization [ILO] on the injury and mortality data in Qatar. The GCO said that report will be “an example of how an external organisation can add value” to Qatar’s reform programme.

“The report is objective and evidence based; it does not seek to sensationalise any of the issues,” noted the GCO.

Unexplained migrant worker deaths

Citing epidemiological experts, Amnesty said that “well-resourced” health systems should be able to identify the exact causes of deaths.

However, “review of data from major labour-sending countries found that the rate of unexplained migrant worker deaths in Qatar may be close to 70%,” said Amnesty’s report.

Commenting on the phrases used in Qatar’s death certificates, Dr. David Bailey, a leading pathologist and member of the WHO Working Group on death certification, said that further clarification is needed to explain the underlying causes of the reported deaths.

“Essentially, everyone dies of respiratory or cardiac failure in the end and the phrases are meaningless without an explanation of the reason why,” Dr. Bailey told Amnesty.

Amnesty International UK’s CEO Sacha Deshmukh said that the migrant workers’ deaths “are casting a long shadow over the 2022 World Cup”.

“The FA, as part of the UEFA Working Group on Workers’ Rights in Qatar, should be at the forefront of concerted efforts within FIFA to press Qatar to urgently strengthen migrant worker protections, and to investigate deaths and compensate families,” said Deshmukh, calling on England players, staff and supporters to “keep worker rights in Qatar in the public eye”.

British media has been particularly active in targeting Qatar as the host of the long-anticipated World Cup 2022, releasing reports that have claimed an alarming number of deaths among migrant workers, insisting that they are linked to the construction of stadiums.

A report published by The Guardian in February headlined, “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup” linked the “shocking” death rate to the start of the World Cup 2022 journey a decade ago.

Politicising the pitch: Whose politics are acceptable?

The report also failed to clarify the reasons behind the deaths and was dismissed by Qatar as “baseless”.

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 at the time, experts said the “deceptive” reporting is part of major Western media propaganda campaign against Qatar.

In the latest Amnesty report, the rights group called on all national Football Associations— including the English FA—to push FIFA “to use its influence with the Qatar authorities to press for further labour reforms” ahead of the major sporting event.

Furthermore, the report failed to mention the names or the companies who hired the deceased migrant workers in the pass, without holding them accountable for the deaths.

Out of the six deaths of migrant workers investigated—including four construction workers, one security guard and one truck driver—none of them had past health conditions that contributed to their deaths and their families received no compensation.

“Family members emphasised their shock at the deaths, stressing that they believed their relatives had been in good health. Several described the extreme heat and difficult conditions their relatives had regularly been exposed to at work,” read the report.

With the deaths in Amnesty’s reports linked to the scorching heat in Qatar, the GCO said that it is already implementing many of the measures the rights group recommended in its report.

“For example, legislation was introduced in June to further protect workers from heat stress. The new rules expand the hours during which all outdoor work is prohibited and require all work to immediately stop if the wet-bulb globe temperature rises above 32.1°C,” explained the GCO’s statement.

The laws were implemented by Qatar following a study conducted by research experts at FAME Lab and extensive consultations with Doha’s international partners, including the ILO. Furthermore, Doha introduced national heat stress guidance and state-of-the-art cooling apparel to reduce body temperatures during the summer.

“To ensure compliance with summer working hours, the number of labour inspectors investigating housing and working conditions has been increased. Hundreds of companies have been shut down and fined this summer for violating the summer working hours,” said the Qatari government.

Dialogue with Qatar ‘more effective than boycott’, senior ILO official says

Major reforms

Qatar has been praised on a global and regional scale for its “historic” labour reforms.

In March, Qatar introduced the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage, under which employers employers must pay allowances of at least QAR 300 for food and QAR 500 for housing on top of the minimum monthly basic wage of QAR 1,000.

Employers who pay their staff less than the minimum wage will face one-year in jail and a QR 10,000 fine.

As part of the major labour reform agenda, Qatar drastically enhanced monitoring across the board to detect violations, enacting swifter penalties and further strengthening the capacity of labour inspectors.

These labour reforms also include the dismantling of the controversial “kafala” or sponsorship system, becoming the first country in the region to do so.

In an exclusive interview with Doha News in March, senior ILO official, Houtan Homayounpour said more work needs to be done to ensure the protection of workers in Qatar, though authorities should be recognised for the work that has gone into making these changes.

In May,Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs [MADLSA] launched its new platform for workers’ complaints, enabling employees to submit public violations of the labour law.

The employee or worker can file a complaint by logging in through the authentication system available on the platform.

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