Where does the figure of 6,500 dead workers in Qatar come from?

Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are employed in Qatar, as here at the Al Bayt stadium construction site in Doha. They come in particular from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal (photo taken in January 2017).

Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are employed in Qatar, as here at the Al Bayt stadium construction site in Doha. They come in particular from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal (photo taken in January 2017).

FOOTBALL – This is one of the figures that crystallize the opposition to the holding of the World Cup which begins this Sunday 20 November in Qatar: the construction of the stadiums would have caused the death of 6,500 foreign workers. A fact hammered for months by activists, politicians and even some football players who denounce the organization of the World Cup and by extension its social consequences.

On Tuesday 15 November, for example, opponents of the World Cup met in Paris in front of the Qatari embassy to pay homage to the missing. A few weeks earlier, on 4 October, it was the first secretary of the socialist party, Olivier Faure, who denounced on franceinfo a competition in front of play in a graveyard “. And add, therefore, that he ” 6,500 workers died in the last twelve years to build these stadiums, in conditions close to slavery “.

A perhaps even worse balance sheet, according to the Keeper

Initially, this figure comes from a survey by the British newspaper The Guardianpublished in February 2021. Based on data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, as well as data from the Pakistani embassy in Qatar, the newspaper concluded that 5 927 workers from the first four countries mentioned and 824 from the last one died on Qatar’s construction sites between 2010, when the emirate was awarded the World Cup, and 2020.

the Keeper he further clarified that the total toll was factual “much higher” since it did not include the deaths of workers from other countries, “including the Philippines or Kenya”, which are also major labor suppliers to the Gulf countries. Qatar employs about 2 million migrant workers, almost 90% of its total population. “The deaths of the last months of 2020 are also not included”concluded the article, just like those of 2021 and 2022, if we wanted to keep the results updated on the start date of the competition.

For months, the figure of 6,500 dead has been hammered at the construction sites of the World Cup in Qatar.  But it is difficult to confirm (illustrative photo taken in Doha in March 2022).
Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance/Getty Images For months, the figure of 6,500 dead has been hammered at the construction sites of the World Cup in Qatar. But it is difficult to confirm (illustrative photo taken in Doha in March 2022).

Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance/Getty Images

For months, the figure of 6,500 dead has been hammered at the construction sites of the World Cup in Qatar. But it is difficult to confirm (illustrative photo taken in Doha in March 2022).

Based on the testimonies of many families in the five countries mentioned above, the Keeper evoked, for example, a man electrocuted in his room due to poorly insulated electrical cables, the suicide of another who had himself had to pay more than 1,000 euros to be hired as a maintenance man on a construction site or a last found dead in his room. Overall, the daily evoked wounds suffered after falls, the impact of torrid weather on organisms, asphyxiation…

In support of its investigation, the newspaper also cited Nick McGeehan, director of an NGO specializing in violations of labor law in the Gulf countries. A man who corroborated the fact that these migrant workers – whose place of death was not necessarily specified in public data – mostly died in World Cup-related locations.

According to
Nicola Sua/AMA/Getty Images According to the “Guardian”, already in February 2021 around 6,500 foreign workers had lost their lives on the construction sites of the 2022 World Cup, organized in Qatar (photo taken on the Education City Stadium construction site in Doha).

Nicola Sua/AMA/Getty Images

According to the “Guardian”, already in February 2021 around 6,500 foreign workers had lost their lives on the construction sites of the 2022 World Cup, organized in Qatar (photo taken on the Education City Stadium construction site in Doha).

And for good reason: between seven stadiums, an airport, infrastructure related to hotels and public transport and even the host city of the final, Qatar had to build massively to be able to host one of the major sporting events in the world.

Natural deaths and normal numbers for Qatar

At the time of the article Keeperevoked the organizing committee of the World Cup “only” 37 workers died, of which 34 “unrelated to their mission “. A judged qualification blurry “ from the newspaper, which recalled that this formulation described the death of some workers who died while they were in the workplace, but not due to an accident proper (for example a heart attack). And which, according to the British newspaper, would serve to hide the reality of the working conditions in the construction sites of the World Cup.

For their part, the government authorities of Qatar have relativized the extent of the phenomenon by assuring that only a minority of workers in the countries mentioned worked in the construction sector, that natural deaths were extremely widespread and that, in the end, these figures were in no way higher than the population average “normal”.

A statement contradicted by the NGO Amnesty International, which has repeatedly pointed out that Qatar very rarely investigates the deaths of migrant workers, and that it is very common to attribute these deaths to respiratory diseases or cardiovascular accidents.

Faced with the figures put forward by NGOs and journalistic inquiries, Qatar and Fifa continue to get in touch and present dubious statistics.
Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images Faced with the figures put forward by NGOs and journalistic inquiries, Qatar and Fifa continue to get in touch and present dubious statistics.

Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

Faced with the figures put forward by NGOs and journalistic inquiries, Qatar and Fifa continue to get in touch and present dubious statistics.

As Australian public media SBS reminds us, if we rely on official data from Qatar, deaths related to cardiovascular disease among Nepalese aged 25 to 35 working in Qatar represent 58% of total deaths. A figure that is only 15% for those who work in Nepal. There is therefore reason to doubt the veracity of the official data and the conditions in which foreigners work in the emirate.

Fifa recognizes 3 dead in construction sites

Since the publication of data for Keeper, FIFA (world football’s governing body) as well as Qatar have continuously underplayed the budget. As recently as January 2022, Gianni Infantino, the boss of Fifa, thus explained to the Council of Europe that this figure of 6,500 dead “it was just wrong”. And to ensure that only three people had lost their lives in the Qatar construction sites. A figure that overlaps with the communication of the local authorities on the 37 deaths, of which 34 are not work-related.

A few months later, he added that ” giving someone work, even in difficult conditions, gives dignity and pride “. Before returning to the figure to ensure that 6,000 people may have died working elsewhere (only on construction sites, ed)” and that ” FIFA is not responsible for everything that happens in the world “. An argument that he once again hammered on the eve of the opening of the competition during a lunar speech, even comparing himself to ” a migrant worker “.

It should be noted that beyond the figure that has become a reference linked to the survey of the Keeper, other estimates of journalistic work and NGOs also give figures much higher than those of Fifa. Since 2015, several media including the Washington Post and the BBC, for example, had looked into an NGO report citing some 1,200 deaths since 2013.

This figure was already based on official figures from the Indian and Nepalese embassies, between 2010 and 2013. The BBC, however, put this toll into perspective, noting that some of these deaths involved deaths from natural causes and workers who were not necessarily working in connection with the World Cup. Before reiterating the legitimate doubts to have about the data provided and the lack of investigations into the real causes of death.

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