Friday, August 31, 2018

Qatar and the blood-price for football

Qatar has come under immense criticism over the deaths of hundreds of foreign workers at FIFA 2022 World Cup venues. In 2012, 520 workers died in Qatar and over 300 of those deaths remain unexplained. Qatar says workers have died for reasons unrelated to working conditions, such as heart attacks or respiratory failures, but human rights bodies say these are euphemisms for heat-related deaths and argue that Qatar doesn't provide autopsy reports with the aim of hiding the real reasons.  Activists have tried to highlight these health issues to the World Cup organizers.

DW saw over a dozen workers at work here between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., hours designated as a rest period by the state of Qatar between June 15 and August 31, the hottest time of the year.  While experts argue there should not be any work during the day in the harsh summers — when temperatures can rise to 50 Celsius — Qatar itself has banned work during these three-and-a-half hours, accepting they are unfit to work. And yet, DW witnessed a clear breach of law even during the tiny window of reprieve for the workers.

Nicholas McGeehan, an expert on migrant workers' rights in the gulf who has researched workers' deaths for Human Rights Watch, was astonished at DW's findings. He sees the violation at a FIFA-linked stadium to be even more serious because FIFA projects are governed by the Supreme Delivery and Legacy Committee, which promises higher standards of welfare for its workers, much more than other contractors. "This incident suggests contractors are not even abiding by the very basic laws," he told DW.  McGeehan question if Qatar is serious about changing its attitude toward the work force.

"Construction is a conspicuous business — it is visible and loud — so it is hard to believe they felt they could evade detection. The more plausible explanation is that they felt they would escape sanction, and if this is the case it calls into question not only the committee's ability to protect workers but its commitment to that endeavor."

Qatar pledged to reform and abolish the so-called Kafala system which monitors workers. Critics say it restricts their freedom of movement and puts them at the mercy of their employers. A major part of the reform was supposed to ensure that the travel documents remain with the workers. In the Barawa camp, most workers say their passports remain confiscated.

Just days after DW's visit, a 23-year-old Nepalese worker was reported dead at the Al Wakrah stadium in Qatar. According to one of the main contractors, the man fell to his death while carrying out scaffolding work.

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