Families of World Cup migrant workers who died in Qatar await answers

Families of World Cup migrant workers who died in Qatar await answers
Families of World Cup migrant workers who died in Qatar await answers
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NEW DELHI — The last time Ramulu Maraveni’s children saw their father was in March during a grainy video call from Qatar, where he worked. Her two daughters, aged 18 and 16, needed dresses and her 10-year-old son asked for a cup of tea. They talked the next morning before school. By the time the children got home, Maraveni was dead.

Eight months later, his family, who live in India, still do not know why.

Maraveni, 51, paved the roads around World Cup stadiums and collapsed at work, a colleague said. A Qatari death certificate said the cause was “acute heart failure from natural causes”. He had worked grueling hours as Qatar raced to prepare for the tournament, his wife said. A few weeks before his death, he fainted. A doctor who examined him blamed low blood pressure and he promptly returned to work.

“It was hard, continuous work,” said his wife, Lavanya Maraveni, who estimated he earned between $500 and $600 a month. “But he continued to work for the future of our children.”

The construction company that had employed Ramulu Maraveni for 15 years sent his family a check for $3,000 to cover back pay and other benefits, his wife said.

Human rights groups say the unexplained deaths of thousands of migrant workers during Qatar’s nearly 12 years of preparations for the World Cup have tarnished the tournament, exposing the lax monitoring of the football’s international governing body, FIFA, and abusive working conditions in the host country.

For the worker’s loved ones, the deaths left grief and debt, but also deep and agonizing uncertainty about how they died and what was ultimately due to them.

For years, there was no system – and apparently no will – to vigorously investigate many deaths, rights groups said, with the toll obscured by official certificates attributing them to natural causes, which did not require follow-up under Qatari law.

Qatar disputed the death toll, in part insisting that infrastructure work outside World Cup stadiums was unrelated to the tournament. It has also taken steps that labor and human rights groups say are important and will better protect workers if fully implemented.

Beyond the deaths, watchdog groups said many migrant workers trying to support their families back home were trapped in a punitive system that included paying exorbitant fees to recruiters, non-payment of wages and appalling conditions in the labor camps. Many of these conditions persist.

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Qatar, the smallest country and the first Arab state to host the tournament, has pushed back on calls for it, along with FIFA, to contribute to a compensation fund for deceased workers and create an independent body to investigate their death. Qatari officials say the country has already provided tens of millions of dollars to workers whose wages have been withheld by their companies.

Migrant workers make up the vast majority of Qatar’s population, with many Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian workers employed in low-wage jobs, including construction. They played a central role in building the architecture of the World Cup – not just the stadiums, but also the highways and roads leading to them, an extensive metro system and hotels for fans.

Indians are the largest migrant group in Qatar. India’s Foreign Ministry said nearly 2,400 of its citizens died in Qatar between 2014 and 2021, without specifying the cause of those deaths. The ministry also said in February that Qatar topped the list of countries whose Indians were seeking compensation for worker deaths, with 81 cases pending.

Rejimon Kuttappan, an Indian journalist who covers migrant rights, said the Indian government was reluctant to provide more detailed information. “They continue to meddle with data to maintain diplomatic relations and good friendship” with Qatar, he said Thursday, during a press briefing organized by Human Rights Watch.

Because Qatar’s death certificates often cited natural causes or cardiac arrest, it was usually difficult to prove how workers died, he added, even when family members or co-workers believed that ” humidity, overtime or mental stress” were to blame. When the bodies were returned to India, families rarely conducted autopsies, he said, due to a desire to arrange burials quickly or because they were unaware such examinations were an option.

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Maraveni, from Shivangalapally, a village in southern India, had worked for Boom Construction in Qatar since 2007, according to a copy of a letter the company sent to colleagues after his death and reviewed by The Washington Post. The letter asked his colleagues to provide “kindness and all assistance to his bereaved family”; they responded by pooling nearly $500 to send to Lavanya and the three children.

The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment or a detailed list of questions about Maraveni’s work history or the circumstances of his death. A company employee told a Post reporter who visited Boom’s Doha offices on Thursday that the human resources manager who wrote the letter was unavailable.

In recent years, Maraveni had helped build roads in Qatar as a steamroller operator, including those around Lusail Stadium, north of central Doha, where the World Cup finals will be played, according to his roommate and colleague.

Lavanya, 36, said her husband worked 12-hour shifts that often lasted longer. The work alternated between day and night shifts. As the World Cup approached, the pressure mounted: workers were given targets they had to achieve, no matter how long it took, she recalls, Maraveni told her. The heat could be unbearable, often exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

“There’s a lot of work going on in Qatar at a very fast pace,” said a worker who knew Maraveni and spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his job. “I normally work eight-hour shifts, but right now I’m working 12-hour days,” said the worker, who is employed by another company in Qatar.

The pace also meant there was less chance of returning to India. Maraveni had not seen his family for two years – he had hoped to receive an allowance allowing workers absent for such a long time to claim a free ticket and two months leave. But his family said the company would not give him leave because there was too much work.

A month before his death, Maraveni passed out, a colleague said. A private doctor told Maraveni the cause was low blood pressure, and he immediately returned to work, said the colleague, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation from his employer.

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On March 19, Maraveni, who lived in the company’s labor camp, woke up earlier than his colleagues and cooked rice for the group, his colleague said. Hours later at the construction site, he vomited and was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to interviews with family members and the co-worker.

The uncertainty over the cause of his death, as well as the lingering questions around so many similar cases, is particularly vexing given how forcefully Qatar has acted on other fronts to improve its working practices – granting migrant workers a minimum wage and the ability to change jobs, limit working hours during the hottest months and commit to punishing employers who withhold wages.

In an interview, Mahmoud Qutub, director of workers’ welfare and labor rights at the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the organizer of the World Cup in Qatar, repeated the government’s official position that only three worker deaths were directly linked to the tournament. But he acknowledged there had been “confusion and misunderstanding” on both sides of the debate, in part due to a lack of government data.

“The lesson learned is transparency,” he said, adding that a 2020 report by the International Labor Organization, which found 50 worker-related deaths that year, was an “important” step. .

For Maraveni’s family, life has changed dramatically. Without her husband’s $350 monthly payment, Lavanya said, they were subsisting on the $80 she earns each month rolling cigarettes by hand.

The three children – one of whom has a birth defect – were forced to drop out of private school and now attend public school.

Over the years, Maraveni had been able to repay the debt he incurred to get the job in Qatar and expand their two-room mud house into a four-room brick house. He had even taken care of himself by buying a motorbike.

His wife recently sold it to pay school fees.

“Can you imagine the life of a widow?” said Lavanya. “Life seems meaningless without him, and often I don’t want to live anymore. But I have to do it, for our children.

Fahim reported from Doha. B. Kartheek in Hyderabad, India contributed to this report.

. families of workers migrants world cup deceased Qatar waiting for of answers

. Families World Cup migrant workers died Qatar await answers

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