(Beirut) – Qatar and FIFA, on the eve of the World Cup, have not committed to remedy abuses and unexplained deaths of migrant workers who made the event possible, Human Rights Watch said today. Migrant workers, their families, journalists, and labor experts from origin countries have spoken about abuses and called for a remedy fund, receiving public support from 15 countries, over a dozen football associations, five sponsors, political leaders, top players, and fans.
The FIFA World Cup begins on November 20, 2022, and the ability of the country to host an unprecedented 1.2 million visitors to Qatar depends on the contributions of millions of migrant workers. Supporters of financial compensation for migrant workers who suffered abuse in the process and the families of those who died from origin countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa have called on FIFA and Qatar to take action in a five-minute video and during a media briefing on November 17.
“As the World Cup opens, migrant workers and their families, players, and fans will be feeling the terrible weight of the human cost of the tournament,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “FIFA’s failure to provide a remedy while accruing billions of dollars in revenue has left everything in sight in Qatar – from the roads to the stadiums – as reminders of the migrant workers who built and delivered the games but did not receive their wages or died with no compensation for their families.”
Over the last six months, Human Rights Watch and a coalition of rights organizations have led a global campaign calling on FIFA and Qatari authorities to provide a remedy for abuses against migrant workers, including wage theft, injuries and uncompensated deaths over the past 12 years.
The Qatari government in recent years adopted important labor reforms, but they came either too late, were too narrow in scope, or were too weakly implemented for many workers to benefit. “The saddest part of the Qatar World Cup [is that] most of these reforms were aimed at just silencing the critics from the foreign countries,” said Yasin Kakande, a Ugandan journalist who has covered labor abuses in Qatar. “Most of these reforms did not go far [enough] to help the migrants from systemic abuses.”
In November, Qatari authorities opposed the call for a remedy, calling it a “publicity stunt.” FIFA said they were open to providing a remedy but did not publicly commit to create a remedy fund before the opening games. FIFA has a history of contributing to World Cup “legacy funds” to support projects following events including a total of US$260 million in South Africa, Brazil, and Russia.
“We built those towers,” a Nepali migrant worker told Human Rights Watch. He said that the Lusail area of Doha was empty when he first arrived in Qatar 14 years ago, but is now full of towers, adding that while working in Qatar’s extreme heat, he often had to “pour water [sweat] out of his shoes.”
Over the past 12 years, journalists, social workers, and civil society organizations have been raising the alarm about abuses in Qatar, documenting migrant workers’ stories, and helping to assist and repatriate people or their bodies to their families. Many have urged a remedy for abuses from Qatar and FIFA.
“The World Cup started in 2010 and now it is 2022,” said Rejimonn Kuttapan, an Indian migrant rights journalist. “Within 20 days, everything [the matches] will be over. We should not forget that thousands of lives have been sacrificed.”
Ram Pukar Sahani, a former migrant worker who worked in stadiums in Qatar, and whose father, Ganga Sahani, died there, said, “My father died while working on the [construction site] in his uniform. I have a picture. But the death certificate says natural death and heart failure.”
Ram Pukar Sahani’s family was not provided compensation from his father’s employer or Qatar. His father’s employer did not even bother to call to inform the family about the death or offer condolences.
“It seems FIFA and Qatar hoped to run out the clock on the remedy due to migrant workers until the world’s attention became focused on the excitement of the tournament,” Page said. “But many people watching these matches won’t forget about the workers who died, or the families struggling without a wage earner to pay bills, or those now unable to send their kids to school.”
Shariful Hasan, programme head of the Migration Programme and Youth Initiatives of BRAC, a development organization in Bangladesh, said more than 1,300 Bangladeshi workers have died in Qatar over the last decade, with many deaths attributed to heart attacks. “We must answer to the people who have died – not only in Qatar but in any Middle Eastern country,” he said. “We cannot forget this pain…. It is not only the hard work of the migrants; it is their blood. It is their life.”
“The loss of family members and the dehumanizing experiences that have emerged from the 2022 World Cup will not be forgotten long after the tournament is over,” Page said. “But Qatar and FIFA can still take action to remedy the migrant workers and families harmed in the process and build on reforms so the epidemic of abuse of migrant workers can end.”