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Qatar is set to be the site of the 2022 Men’s World Cup, and it is rapidly building the infrastructure needed to host the event. But for many of the migrant workers, this has proved to be a fatal endeavor, as the conditions are so harsh they are costing laborers their lives.
Qatar Airways has three flights a day into Katmandu. Many passengers are Nepalese workers taking a break from World Cup-related construction jobs in Doha.
Outside arrivals, this woman waits for her husband, but for Mina Tomang, it will not be a joyous reunion. When he left for Qatar six months ago, she was his wife. Today, she is his widow, a sad sight the authorities didn't want us to film, the husband's coffin laid across two baggage trolleys; 27-year-old Shiva Tomang died in a building site accident on April the 19th.
To compound his widow's grief, it has taken six weeks to repatriate his body. As if a single coffin wasn't bad enough, there were two others on the same flight. Again, the bodies were those of young men. One had died in a traffic accident, the other from a sudden heart attack. Cardiac arrest is the biggest killer of migrant workers in Qatar.
I put it to the Nepalese minister of labor that it amounted to being worked to death. But he disagreed, saying it was an orientation problem.
When they finish the job, they come back to their room. And then suddenly, they open the A.C., air conditioner. So that is why, in that case, they have a — like a heart attack, something like that.
He wouldn't criticize the Qataris, because wages earned by Nepalese workers there and elsewhere abroad account for 30 percent of this country's GDP.
The recent earthquake was a national calamity that the Nepalese must try to cope with every day, but every other day, a Nepalese family has to try to cope with the shock and personal tragedy that is the death of a male relative in Qatar. That was the average death rate there last year, one every 48 hours.
With no work available at home, these Nepalese men are queuing for permits to go to the Gulf countries, including Qatar. Without identifying himself, one worker who's returning to Qatar described ill treatment during his previous stint there.
MAN (through translator):
The food they give us is often rotten. People in my company keep getting poisoned. Three or four are dying every month. This is my first holiday in three years. My home was destroyed in the earthquake, but they only let me return here because I agreed to take responsibility for one of the dead and bring his body with me.
Last year, we were invited to Qatar to look at a new accommodation block housing migrant workers, but later, on our own, we found these older, squalid quarters cramped full of Nepalese laborers, sleeping 18 to a small room.
These are images Qatar doesn't want the world to see. Recently, other British journalists seeking a similar glimpse were followed, arrested and interrogated. The Qataris claim that significant progress has been made in improving the lot of guest laborers, but Nandita Baruah disagrees. She lobbies on behalf of migrant workers.
We haven't really seen any marked changes in the way that the migrant workers are faring in Qatar today, as against what their situation was five years earlier.
So, the World Cup has not been the catalyst for change that you would have hoped for?
Don't think so, no.
The body of Shiva Tomang was taken from Kathmandu Airport to a Buddhist temple for the funeral ceremony and cremation. As monks performed the rituals, the young man's widow passed out, and his mother wailed.
The Qatar World Cup is now under investigation. The FBI and the Swiss are counting the alleged cost in bribes. Nepal is counting the actual cost in lives.
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