Some 185 Nepali expats in Qatar died last year, a Kathmandu-based non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of its migrants has confirmed to the Guardian.
According to the Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC), which works with the family of the deceased to repatriate their bodies, that number could rise as more cases come in.
To put the figure in perspective, the Nepalese Embassy in Doha estimates that some 400,000 of its nationals work in Qatar, meaning the death rate was less than a half a percent. The figure has also fallen from 2012, when 197 Nepalis died in Qatar, according to the Guardian’s figures.
Still, the numbers are sparking concerns for a few reasons.
Firstly, because Qatar has increasingly been sourcing its construction work from Nepal. A 2013 study on the lives of migrant workers found that 39 percent of all low-income workers in Qatar are Nepalese. And that number is climbing, as more men apply to work here, despite the widespread tales of hardship.
Secondly, many of the deceased last year were young men in the their 20s who apparently died of heart problems.
Addressing this problem last July, a record month for Nepali deaths, an embassy official here cited working conditions as the main issue. Speaking to Doha News, Second Secretary Harihar Kant Poudel said:
“Many workers are going without meals, and without enough water, then they are working in high temperatures all day. The weather here is different from our country. Our nationals are not used to it.”
He added that some deaths may have been ruled as cardiovascular-related to cover up onsite accidents.
Such incidents continue to be a problem for Qatar’s blue-collar population, according to trauma doctors at Hamad Medical Corp.
Speaking to the Gulf Times last week, Orthopedic, Pelvic and Hip Surgery consultant Dr. Ghalib Ahmed al-Kubaisi said the majority of cases seen by the department involve road accident victims and construction workers injured on the job.
“Patients are mostly young, as they comprise labourers aged 30-34-years-old who usually suffer complex injuries due to fall from height or industrial accidents. This category of patients mostly requires treatments from all the sub-specialties in the Orthopedic department,” he said.
Addressing the 2013 death toll, the Nepal-based PNCC said FIFA must do more to protect migrant workers in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup. The Guardian reports the group as saying:
“Fifa and the government of Qatar promised the world that they would take action to ensure the safety of workers building the stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. This horrendous roll call of the dead gives the lie to those reassurances.
These were young or otherwise able-bodied men, with their futures in front of them, families at home and everything to live for. Many have been literally worked to death. Some have met with even more sinister ends. All have been betrayed by Fifa.”
For its part, Qatar has said it is working to improve labor conditions by hiring more inspectors to enforce its laws. But many international advocacy organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations say change will only come if Qatar radically alters or scraps its restrictive sponsorship system.
Under kafala, expats are bound to their employers, and must seek their permission to exit the country or move to another job. However, changes to the system have been thwarted by widespread support of kafala from Qatar’s local business community.