The Plight of Nepali Migrant Workers in Qatar Ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022

LIN has published a new editorial in the BMJ Occupational and Environmental Medicine, drawing attention to the extreme health risks from heat that migrant workers in Qatar have faced for over a decade. The editorial, authored by David Wegman, Dinesh Neupane, Shailendra Sharma, and Jason Glaser is both an urgent warning and an invitation, imploring occupational health professionals globally to bring their knowledge, skills, and advocacy to bear on the occupational heat crisis in Qatar.

More than 6500 migrant workers have died since 2010 when Qatar was announced as the 2022 World Cup host country, with many more sick and injured. In Nepal, nephrologists are now beginning to identify widespread concerns of workers returning from Qatar with heat-related chronic kidney disease (CKDnt), a debilitating and often fatal illness that affects workers performing strenuous labor in extreme heat with no protection. 

Qatar’s awarding as host country of World Cup 2022 has not been without controversy. The 4-week event has had to be planned for the cooler winter months, rather than the summer months in which the World Cup is traditionally held, as the summer months can reach an average high of around 41°C. In 2010, the Qatari government assuaged concerns by promising that “heat would not be an issue,” going so far as to engineer air conditioning for all nine outdoor stadiums. Yet, for the workers who have been constructing those stadiums and installing that air conditioning over the past decade, heat has been their daily nightmare.

The reason for this is twofold. First, there is an unstated belief that workers are expendable and that migrant laborers particularly are easily replaced. This belief has motivated the only recently abolished kafala system in Qatar – what human rights groups have called ‘modern-day slavery’ – in which it was impossible for workers to transfer jobs or even leave the country without their employer’s permission. This formed the basis of an extremely exploitative system based on an uneven power differential between precarious migrant workers and their employers. Though kafala no longer formally exists as state policy, workers continue to report that it essentially still exists in practice, with many continuing to be locked in unsafe work or face the threat of fines and wage theft. 

Curiously, international organizations such as WHO, International Labour Organization, FIFA and the global football stars have thus far chosen not to comment.

Second, there has been the naive belief that simply having rules and regulations provides an adequate level of safety. As a recent Amnesty International report, “In the Prime of their Lives: Qatar’s failure to investigate, remedy and prevent migrant workers’ deaths” demonstrates, the established rules and regulations designed to protect migrant workers’ health in Qatar are both inadequate and irregularly enforced. Until 2021, there was no temperature limit at which workers should no longer work, and workers had no right to self-pace once the temperatures became dangerously high. Even still, new worker protections implemented in 2021 have not appropriately addressed the issue. As the editorial notes,

 “The law contains no risk-based tools (wet bulb globe temperature or heat index) to appropriately guide limits on work hours, it pays no attention to prescribed breaks in the shade, and it shows ignorance of the power differential that results in workers’ unwillingness to assert their rights.” (Wegman et al., 2021). 

So long as these unjust conditions persist in Qatar and beyond, we at LIN will utilize our network of researchers, advocates, and policy experts to implement the science-backed interventions necessary to protect workers in a warming world. With less than a year until World Cup 2022, we are looking for allies in this mission. To  join us, send a message here

If you would like to join this important mission, please consider supporting us with a donation today. We cannot do this work alone, and your support will enable us to continue fighting for the safe and dignified working conditions that every human being deserves.

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