Qatar World Cup boss says 400 migrant workers die

More than 400 migrant workers have died in Qatar in the years leading up to the World Cup, the man in charge of the body responsible for organizing the tournament has said, reigniting a debate over the treatment of those who built more than $200,000 worth of structures. million for the tournament.

Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Surrender and Legacy, told the British journalist Piers Morgan on Talk TV on Tuesday: “The estimate is around 400, between 400 and 500, I don’t have the exact number, that is being discussed.”

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Morgan had asked for “the honest and realistic total” of migrant workers who had died in the course of their contribution to projects related in any way to the World Cup.

After the interview, the Supreme Committee released a statement that appeared to contradict al-Thawadi, saying he was referring to 414 deaths across the country, not necessarily all related to the World Cup.

“Separate citations regarding the figures refer to national statistics covering the period 2014-2020 for all work-related deaths (414) across the country in Qatar, covering all sectors and nationalities,” it said. a Supreme Committee spokesman in an email.

The figure has not previously appeared in official reports from the Supreme Committee or FIFA, the world soccer body.

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Hassan al-Thawadi at the World Cup in November. The supreme committee has received criticism on several fronts, including its treatment of migrant workers. Michael Regan/FIFA via Getty Images

The Supreme Committee did not respond to questions from NBC News about where or how the 414 figure was matched up or how many of those deaths were directly related to the World Cup projects.

Al-Thawadi added in the interview that “one death is too much death, plain and simple,” noting improvements in health and safety and other social reforms in the past decade, including the removal of the punitive kafala system, still widely used. throughout the Middle East, where immigrants hand over passports to employers.

There are about 2 million migrant workers in Qatar, a estimated 95 percent of the total active population of the country. Mostly young men from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and the Philippines, they were responsible for building seven new stadiums, a new metro line, dozens of hotels and related infrastructure in the last decade.

Human rights groups have estimated that thousands of migrant workers have been killed in Qatar in the past decade, many of whom may have worked on World Cup-related projects.

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, said in a statement on Tuesday: “Over the past decade, thousands of workers have returned home in coffins, with no explanations to their loved ones.”

“It is likely that Qatar’s extreme heat and harsh working conditions have contributed to hundreds of these deaths, but without full investigations the true scale of lives lost will never be known,” he said. “Meanwhile, families suffer the added anguish of severe financial insecurity that stems from the loss of the main breadwinner.”

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The 85,000 capacity Lusail Stadium on the outskirts of Doha, under construction in 2018. Thousands of young people from South Asia worked on this and other World Cup projects. Getty Images Archive

The International Labor Organization, a UN agency that has an office in the country’s capital, Doha, said in a report last year that 50 migrant workers from all sectors died in work accidents in 2020, in addition to 38,000 work injuries, 500 of them classified as serious.

The organization declined to comment on al-Thawadi’s comments this week.

Barun Ghimire, a human rights lawyer in Nepal who has represented the families of workers who have died in Qatar, told NBC News last year: “This 2022 World Cup, I often call it the blood diamond of the World Cups… Everybody knows migrant workers are dying. And they didn’t know about this risk.”

The World Cup in Qatar, the first to be held in an Arab nation, generated much controversy not only over its treatment of migrant workers, but also over Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ policies and ban on some fan costumes. in the stadiums.