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Qatar rejects Amnesty report on ‘unexplained’ labourer deaths

Qatar says its injury and mortality statistics 'are in line with international best practice and set new standards for the region' [Faras Ghani-Al Jazeera]

Qatar has rejected an Amnesty International report in which the rights group calls on the 2022 World Cup host to do more to investigate worker deaths, alleging that a string of labourer fatalities had gone unexplained.

In the report, published on Thursday, Amnesty accuses the Qatari authorities of failing to investigate the deaths of migrant workers, “despite evidence of links between premature deaths and unsafe working conditions”.

The report, In the Prime of their Lives (PDF), states that “Qatar routinely issues death certificates for migrant workers without conducting adequate investigations, instead attributing deaths to ‘natural causes’ or vaguely defined cardiac failures”.

These certifications rule out the possibility of compensation for bereaved families, according to Amnesty.

The rights group highlighted the risks posed to workers by Qatar’s extreme climate, especially when combined with excessive and physically strenuous working hours.

In contrast to what Amnesty reported, a spokesperson for Qatar’s Government Communications Office said in a statement that the country’s “injury and mortality statistics are in line with international best practice and set new standards for the region”.

“On tackling the effects of heat stress, Qatar has made significant progress. Following a study conducted by research experts FAME Lab and extensive consultations with our international partners, Qatar introduced legislation in June 2021 to further protect workers from the summer heat.

“The new rules expand the hours during which outdoor work is prohibited, introduce annual health checks for all workers, and require work to immediately stop if the wet-bulb globe temperature rises above a temperature recommended by health experts,” the statement added.

In its report, Amnesty reviewed 18 migrant workers’ death certificates issued by Qatar between 2017 and 2021. Fifteen provided no information about underlying causes, instead using terms such as “acute heart failure natural causes”, “heart failure unspecified” and “acute respiratory failure due to natural causes”, the rights group stated.

According to Amnesty’s analysis of Qatar’s deaths data, migrant worker deaths are going unexplained on a large scale.

“Official Qatari statistics show that over 15,021 non-Qataris – of all ages and occupations – died between 2010 and 2019, but data on cause of death is unreliable, due to the lack of investigations which Amnesty documented,” the report states.

“The fact that a high number of deaths are categorized as ‘cardiovascular diseases’ in Qatar’s statistics may be obscuring a high number of deaths that are, in reality, unexplained.”

Qatar’s Government Communication Office spokesperson said in the statement that they “do not support or agree with the position Amnesty has taken against Qatar”.

“The positive impact of labour reforms in Qatar is clear for all to see. Major reforms include a new national minimum wage, the removal of exit permits, the removal of barriers to change jobs, stricter oversight of recruitment, better accommodation, and improved health and safety standards. The reforms have benefited over one million people to date.”

“The vast majority of foreign nationals who live and work in Qatar leave with a positive experience. Many remain in Qatar beyond the duration of their first contract and encourage friends and family to join them for similar opportunities and a better quality of life.

“The reality is that no other country has come so far in such a short amount of time. Following Qatar’s lead, and as a sign of the programme’s wider impact, other countries in the region have now taken steps to introduce their own labour reforms,” the statement said.

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