Human Rights Watch (HRW) has long been pushing for Qatar to move towards real-time weather conditions to decide outdoor work hours, instead of pre-defining them.
However, Jureidini says the deaths cannot be attributed to heat alone, citing figures that show that of the 705 Nepali workers who died between 2011-2014, 57.5% occurred in April-September when temperature is the highest. Of those classified as cardiac arrests, 61.2% died in the six summer months.
“There is more than heat causing the deaths that needs to be further investigated. Without reliable data and with no post-mortem examinations, we are just speculating. Everybody is just guessing,” he says. The real task of an inquiry is to explain why some workers are dying and others are not, under the same conditions.
While a more scientific and systematic approach involving the medical community is important, he also underlines the need for pre-departure health screening. He shared the example of medical screening for Gurkha enlistment who undergo mandatory ECG and ultrasound to identify risk of sudden cardiac death during heavy exercise.
Outgoing migrant workers now go through basic pre-departure tests like x-ray, medical history, blood pressure. The adequacy of these tests need to be ascertained and follow-up health checkups at the destination are needed.
“There is a need to increase awareness levels among migrants. After a long day’s work in blazing heat, for example, if migrants sleep in cold air conditioned rooms, it can be detrimental. Proper nutrition, staying hydrated and knowing when to ask for help is also needed,” says Kareem Miya.
Qatar-based physicians interviewed for this article also underline the need for awareness programs in Qatar itself on issues like mental health, dehydration, temperature control, accident prevention and Covid-19.
Malpractice in recruitment including costs also take a toll on both the mental and physical health of migrants who exert themselves to recoup costs.
A worker from Sarlahi we contacted in Qatar had to migrate because his parents were Rs500,000 in debt. But he himself had to take out a Rs150,000 loan to pay recruiters. It will take him three years to pay it all off.
He does not care much about the FIFA World Cup, but is worried he may lose his job as the games approach. “I have transitioned to maintenance work now, but my company is very small and may not win contracts as we approach the game as preference will be given to the bigger, better known firms,” he adds.
But there are ‘FIFA stadium alumni’ like Padam who was featured in the documentary Worker’s Cup who is passionate about the World Cup. He left Qatar six years ago and is now in the UAE.