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 FIFA World Cup ten years ago, and at least 1,018 among them are Bangladeshis, says a report by British daily The Guardian.
The findings, compiled from government sources, mean that on average 12 migrant workers from these five South Asian nations have died each week since December 2010, when the streets of Doha were filled with ecstatic crowds celebrating Qatar's victory in the bid.
Data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka revealed that there were 5,927 deaths of migrant workers in the period from 2011 to 2020. Separately, data from Pakistan's embassy in Qatar reported a further 824 deaths of Pakistani workers between 2010 and 2020.
The total death toll could be significantly higher, as these figures do not include deaths from a number of countries that send large number of workers to Qatar, including the Philippines and Kenya. Deaths that occurred in the final months of 2020 are also not included.
Qatar has embarked on an unprecedented construction programme in the past ten years, largely in preparation for the football tournament in 2022.
In addition to seven new stadiums, dozens of major projects have been completed or are underway, including a new airport, roads, public transport systems, hotels and a new city, which will host the World Cup final.
While death records are not categorised by occupation or place of work, it is likely that many workers who died were employed on these World Cup infrastructure projects, says Nick McGeehan, a director at Fair Square Projects – an advocacy group specialising in labour rights in the Gulf.
There have been 37 deaths among workers directly linked to construction of World Cup stadiums, of which 34 are classified as "non-work related" by the event's organising committee, reports The Guardian.
Experts have questioned the use of this term, because in some cases it has been used to describe deaths which have occurred on the job, including a number of workers who have collapsed and died on stadium construction sites.
The findings expose Qatar's failure to protect its 20 lakh-strong migrant workforce, or even investigate the causes of the apparently high rate of death among the largely young workers.
Behind the statistics lie countless stories of devastated families who have been left without their main breadwinner, struggling to gain compensation and confused about the circumstances of their loved one's death.
Qatar's grim death toll is revealed in long spreadsheets of official data listing the causes of death: multiple blunt injuries due to a fall from height; asphyxia due to hanging; undetermined cause of death due to decomposition.
But among the causes, the most common by far is so-called "natural deaths," often attributed to acute heart or respiratory failure.
Based on the data obtained by the Guardian, 69% of deaths among Indian, Nepali and Bangladeshi workers are categorised as natural. Among Indians alone, the figure is 80%. Around 4 lakh Bangladeshi are working in Qatar, according to an unofficial estimate.
Syed Saiful Haque, a rights activist of migrant workers and Chairman of WARBE Development Foundation, said, "Although Qatar authority claimed that most of the incidents were natural deaths, the facts are different. The workers' families also did not get sufficient compensation."
"Our government has to make a serious effort to support the families of migrant workers in getting compensation and work towards ensuring a congenial work environment for Bangladeshi workers in Qatar."
He mentioned that many Bangladeshis have died in road accidents too.