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More than 900 people have died in Qatar building infrastructure for the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup — and, according to The Guardian and the International Trade Union Confederation, if conditions don't improve, that number could balloon to 4,000 by the time the games get underway.
Most of these workers are from India and Nepal, and came to Qatar to find work in the Gulf city's seemingly endless construction boom.
According to The Guardian's ongoing investigation, working conditions for Qatar's migrant labour force are horrendous:
Workers described forced labour in 50C heat, employers who retain salaries for several months and passports making it impossible for them to leave and being denied free drinking water. The investigation found sickness is endemic among workers living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions and hunger has been reported. Thirty Nepalese construction workers took refuge in the their country's embassy and subsequently left the country, after they claimed they received no pay.
As Smithsonian.com reports, the numbers being reported in The Guardian and other sources are extreme — for just about any project in any era. Twenty five workers died in the leadup to the Sochi Olympics, for example, while 11 people died during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1930s.
In Bloomberg, Jeffrey Goldberg calls attention to a recent Amnesty International report that states that more than 1,000 people every year are injured by falling from extreme heights at construction sites, with the mortality rate being "significant."
Qatar's treatment of migrant workers is a major problem — especially because there are so many of them in the country. The ITUC reports that there are currently about 1.2 million migrant workers in Qatar. That number could grow by another million as the Gulf state prepares for the World Cup.
The region is notorious for treating its migrant worker population badly. In Qatar, as well as other countries in the region including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait, employees are sponsored by their employers — and are often more or less beholden to them for the duration of their stay in the country. This mostly unregulated system leads to unsafe working conditions, low wages, abuse and human trafficking. They work long, hard hours, and often their very minimal spare time is controlled by their employers — in some cases, migrant workers are even paid to attend soccer games, at the stadiums they've built, to boost attendance for a sport locals don't particularly care about.