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Migrant workers are being worked to death in searing temperatures in Qatar

Half the athletes participating in the women’s marathon in the IAAF World Athletics pulled out of the race due to soaring heat

On 29 September, a couple of days after the opening of the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha, the women’s marathon took place, yet nearly half the athletes participating pulled out of the race in what the Telegraph described as, “shocking scenes of multiple athletes collapsing in distress.” Despite starting the race at midnight, runners were battling temperatures of up to 30 degrees Celsius and humidity levels above 80 per cent.

“The humidity kills you,” one runner who did manage to cross the finish line told the Telegraph.

A new Guardian investigation has revealed that outside of the air-conditioned stadiums, thousands of migrant labourers are being worked to death in searing temperatures in Qatar, with hundreds estimated to be dying from heat stress every year. The workers endure grueling work in similar weather conditions as the runners for up to 12 hours a day for six and sometimes even seven days a week, with woefully less protections in place.

This summer, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers toiled in temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius as Qatar’s construction boom hit its peak ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022. Heat protection regulations for workers in Qatar prohibit outdoor work at midday hours during the hottest summer months of the year. An analysis published in the Guardian clarified through the official weather data over a nine-year period that the working ban does not keep workers safe.

In the hours outside the ban, anyone working outdoors is still being exposed to potentially fatal levels of heat stress specifically between June and September, which cardiologists say is leading to high numbers of fatalities every year. The analysis also found dangerous levels of heat exposure continues into the cooler months.

Dr. Dan Atar, a professor of cardiology and head of research at Oslo University Hospital told the Guardian: “Young men have a very low incidence of heart attacks yet hundreds of them are dying every year in Qatar attributed to cardiovascular causes. The clear conclusion that I draw from this as a cardiologist is that these deaths are caused by deadly heat strokes. Their bodies cannot take the heat stress they are being exposed to.”

According to a report published by the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC) approximately 1,200 workers have already died since 2010 and the ITUC predicts that there will be at least 4,000 worker fatalities by the time the FIFA World Cup begins in 2022.

Qatar hosts about two million migrant workers, but it still does not meet international labour standards. Migrant workers in Qatar are governed by an exploitative labour system that can leave them vulnerable to forced labour by trapping them in employment situations in which their rights to fair wages, overtime pay, adequate housing, freedom of movement, and access to justice are at risk. These serious and systemic abuses of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar often stem from the kafala system, which ties migrant workers’ visas to their employer and severely restricts their ability to change employers.

In addition, the routine confiscation of workers’ passports by employers, debts incurred by migrant workers to pay for recruitment fees, and the prohibition on migrant workers joining unions and striking, leaves workers vulnerable to abuse.

“Despite the vulnerable position these migrant workers are in, we see them standing up for their rights,” Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The government should respond by ensuring greater protections for workers under Qatari law.”

A recent report from Amnesty shows how thousands of migrant workers in the country are still being exploited and denied their rights despite repeated promises from the authorities to improve workers’ rights ahead of the 2022 Football World Cup. According to the report, several hundred migrant workers employed by three construction and cleaning companies were forced to return home penniless. Yet the true scale of the problem is likely to be far bigger.

The US State Department estimating that more than 6,000 workers submitted complaints to Qatar’s new Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes during last year alone.

In a statement, Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues, said:

“Despite the significant promises of reform which Qatar has made ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it remains a playground for unscrupulous employers. Migrant workers often go to Qatar in the hope of giving their families a better life – instead many people return home penniless after spending months chasing their wages, with too little help from the systems that are supposed to protect them.”

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