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Families of Indian migrants who died in Qatar seek answers

Midhat Fatimah in New Delhi
December 15, 2022

Mammai Bhoo Laxmi's husband went to Qatar to work on its FIFA World Cup infrastructure as a construction worker. Within one week of arriving, he was reported dead.

Laborers walk to the Lusail Stadium, one of the 2022 World Cup stadiums, in Lusail, Qatar
Mammai Laxman is believed to be among the 6,500 migrant workers who have died in Qatar since 2010 while working on projects related to the FIFA World Cup Image: Hassan Ammar/AP/picture alliance

Eight years have passed since Mammai Bhoo Laxmi — a resident of Humnapur village in the south Indian state of Telangana — last heard from her husband Mammai Laxman.

He had called her from the airport right before he boarded his flight to Qatar in 2014, and promised to call her again once he obtained a local number. He was flying to Qatar to work as a mason. But Laxmi never heard from her husband again.

About a month later, Laxmi heard news of his death. Laxman died within his first week in Qatar. He is believed to be one of the 6,500 migrant workers who have died in Qatar since 2010 while working on projects related to the FIFA World Cup 2022.

The death certificate issued by Qatari officials mentioned heart attack as the cause of Laxman's death.

Laxmi told DW he was medically fit when he left for Qatar.

"He used to say that in India, we will not be able to earn enough so he will go to Qatar so that he can provide a better education and life for our children," said 42-year-old Laxmi.

Photo of Mammai Bhoo Laxmi, her husband Mammai Laxman and their two children
Mammai Bhoo Laxmi, her husband Mammai Laxman and their two childrenImage: privat

"There are days when my kids and I only eat boiled rice and pickle," she said, adding, "our family is now surviving on the widows pension from the state government and the meager earnings I make working as a daily wager."

In desperate need of financial assistance, Laxmi said that she doesn't know who she can contact for compensation. 

All migrant workers' deaths should be considered 'work-related' 

According to non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, under Qatar's labor laws, families of workers who die in Qatar because of work are entitled to receive compensation within a period of 15 days from the day of death. However, the provision does not cover deaths that are not work-related, which makes it difficult for family members to claim compensation.

Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy has said that three work-related deaths and 37 non-work-related deaths occurred on World Cup-related projects.

In an interview with Piers Morgan that aired on November 30, SC Secretary General Hassan al-Thawadi said that "around 400 … between 400 and 500" migrants died. 

Bheem Reddy Mandha, president of the Emigrants Welfare Forum, is demanding compensation for the families of the deceased migrant workers.

"We are demanding that every migrant worker's death, that has taken place in Qatar since it won the hosting rights for the FIFA World Cup in 2010, be considered as a FIFA and work-related death."

He added: "All migrant workers went there to work, so they should be considered on-duty and their deaths should be considered work-related, regardless of how they died."

Construction worker in Doha
Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) has said that three work-related deaths and 37 non-work related deaths occurred on World Cup related projectsImage: Igor Kralj/PIXSELL/picture alliance

'India is silent'

According to India's foreign ministry, about 2,400 Indian citizens died in Qatar between 2014 and 2021.

The ministry also said in February that Qatar topped the list of countries from which Indians were seeking compensation for work-related deaths, with 81 cases pending.

India is not among the signatories of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

"The reason why India is silent on the issues concerning human rights violation of its migrant workers is because if it does question other governments, then it will be questioned too," said Reddy Mandha.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana (PBBY) is a mandatory insurance scheme run by the Indian government. It provides insurance cover of €11,379 ($12,068) to workers who fall in the Emigration Check Required (ECR) category and covers only accidental deaths.

According to the data available on India's Ministry of External Affairs, 812 claims were settled under PBBY between 2014 and 2018. The data does not mention how many claims were received under the scheme.

"Instead of blaming other countries, we should focus on strengthening our social security system. The PBBY scheme is insufficient. We are demanding that it should be extended to all migrants irrespective of their passport categories and reason of death," said Reddy.

Qatar's migrant workers celebrate their own World Cup

India in need of revising migrant worker policies

In 2015, the Indian government launched the online portal "E-Madad" for overseas workers. So far, 81,655 grievances have been registered on the portal — out of which 78,288 have been resolved.

Reddy said the E-Madad portal "is a good initiative, however, it is not the solution," adding that it requires users to have stronger digital literacy to use such a method to resolve their grievances.

Rafeek Ravuther, executive director at the Centre for Indian Migrant Studies, says India must also address its policies concerning migrant workers and bring about change.

"We don’t have a revised immigrant policy. We are still following the Emigrant Act of the 80s. It concerns the regulation of migrant workers but does not concern the protection of workers' rights," he said. 

DW sent an email to the SC and the Indian Embassy in Qatar requesting comments regarding migrant worker deaths but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

Edited by: Sou-Jie van Brunnersum