Qatar urged to pay families of dead workers

A coffin bearing a Nepali who died of unexplained causes in Qatar being wheeled out of Kathmandu airport. An average of three bodies arrive every day. Photo: SHANKAR DAHAL

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other groups have called for FIFA, football’s international governing body, and the Qatar government to stop abuse of migrant workers while preparing for the 2022 World Cup.

Rights groups are especially concerned about unexplained death of workers — an average of three coffins arrive at Kathmandu airport every day on planes ready to take more Nepali migrant workers to the Gulf and other countries.

This month HRW accompanied the body of a Nepali worker who had died in Qatar from Kathmandu airport to his grieving family.

There are drivers especially appointed to take the coffins home. The frequent arrival of bodies at Kathmandu airport, usually long after midnight, means the drivers are busy round the clock on the final journey of the workers across Nepal’s difficult terrain and rough mountain highways.

“Sometimes there are so many cases that we have to rush back to the capital as soon as we drop off one coffin for the next delivery,” one driver told an HRW team.

The remains of a Nepali migrant worker who lost his life in Qatar being delivered this week from Kathmandu airport to his family in rural Nepal. Photo: HRW

Over long hours on the road, family members recount their tragedies. Each story is different, but share a disbelief over what happened and uncertainty about their future without a breadwinner.

Rights groups have started a campaign #PayUpFIFA to make the football governing body more accountable to what happens to workers.

FIFA has said it is “currently looking into compensation mechanisms” for migrant workers who suffered workplace injury or death.

An initial inquiry into the repatriation process for deceased migrant workers shows that Qatari authorities, along with governments in Nepal and elsewhere, have records that can be used to develop this compensation mechanism.

For families, the sudden, premature and uncertain passing of a loved one abroad is shattering. But mourning a family member who has passed away in another country means immediately dealing with a slew of administrative challenges to bring them home.

Nepali workers at a Qatar construction site, where the FIFA World Cup will be held later this year.

Documentation requirements for the repatriation of a migrant worker’s body vary by country, but broadly include: power of attorney or consent from the legal heir, a death certificate, a police report, a medical report, an airway bill, an embalming certificate, and a No Objection Certificate from relevant origin country embassies.

There are many questions to investigate regarding the unexplained deaths of thousands of migrant workers, and a place to start could be the data bases of countries like Qatar that employ them.

HRW says this data could be a critical starting point as FIFA looks into compensation mechanisms.

‘FIFA and Qatari authorities shouldn’t abandon families of migrant workers who died to make the World Cup possible.’ HRW said in a statement this week. ‘With records largely available, there’s no excuse to leave them behind.’

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