The Guardian: Up to 10,000 Asian migrant workers die in the Gulf every year, claims report

Campaigners say not enough is being done to prevent loss of life and the causes of death are not being properly investigated

Construction workers near Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar
Construction workers in Doha, Qatar. Heat stress from doing manual work in high temperatures is just one risk to health that workers in the region face. Photograph: Pete Pattisson/The Guardian

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Katie McQue

@katiemcque Fri 11 Mar 2022 11.38 GMT

As many as 10,000 migrant workers from south and south-east Asia die every year in the Gulf countries, according to a report by a group of human rights organisations.

More than half of the deaths are unexplained, said the report, and are commonly recorded as due to “natural causes” or “cardiac arrest”. But Gulf states are failing properly to investigate why so many migrant workers are dying.

The report, Vital Signs: The deaths of migrants in the Gulf, has been compiled by NGOs from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal and the Philippines, and FairSquare Projects, a London-based migrant rights organisation.

Low-paid migrant workers in the Gulf are exposed to a series of risks to their health, including heat and humidity, air pollution, overwork and abusive working conditions, poor occupational health and safety practices, psychosocial stress and hypertension. Long hours of manual labour in searing temperatures can result in heat stress, which can lead to organ damage, the report said.

Julhas Uddin, a 37-year-old man from Bangladesh, died in Saudi Arabia in October 2017 when a supervisor instructed him to enter a sewerage line without an oxygen cylinder. No investigation was conducted, and his death certificate states the cause as “heart and breathing stopped”.

Qatar Pattisson - 15 of 36 Construction workers near Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar.

There are about 30 million migrants working in the Arab Gulf states – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. About 80% of these are employed in low-paid sectors such as construction, hospitality and domestic work, and come from poorer countries in Asia and Africa.

“Despite the Gulf states’ practical dependence on their migrant workforces and the bolstering impact migrant worker remittances have on the economies of their homelands, both origin and Gulf states have for too long paid inadequate attention to ensuring they return home in good health,” said Anurag Devkota, a lawyer from Nepal’s Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice. “As a result far too many do not return home at all, or do so in coffins or body bags.”

Despite widespread criticism of worker exploitation – notably in relation to Qatar’s preparations to host this year’s World Cup – the Gulf states have largely avoided structural labour reforms, and origin states have been unable to ensure proper protection for their nationals abroad.

The governments of the six Gulf countries did not respond to requests for comment.

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