Qatari authorities have failed to investigate the deaths of thousands of migrant workers over the past decade despite the evidence of links between unsafe working conditions and premature deaths, Amnesty International said today.

The AI's new report on 'Prime of their Lives' released today documents how Qatar routinely issues death certificates to migrant workers without conducting adequate investigations, but attributes deaths to natural causes or vaguely defined cardiac failures.

These certifications - described by one leading pathologist as meaningless - rule out the possibility of compensation for the bereaved families, many of whom are already facing financial difficulties after losing their sole breadwinner.

The AI highlighted the risks posed by Qatar's extreme climate to the workers, compounded by excessive and physically strenuous working hours. Recently, Qatar introduced some new laws for protections of workers. While the major risk factors continue to persist, authorities have done little to investigate the scale of heat-related deaths. In addition to consulting leading medical experts and reviewing the government data related to thousands of deaths, the AI analysed 18 death certificates and interviewed the families of six men, all of whom were between 30 and 40 years of age when they died.

"When relatively young and healthy men die suddenly after being exposed to long working hours in extreme heat, it raises serious questions regarding the safety of working conditions in Qatar. The Qatari authorities have failed to investigate the underlying causes of migrant workers' deaths and ignored the warning signs which, if addressed, could save lives. This is a violation of the right to life. They are also denying the bereaved families their right to remedy, and leaving them with painful unanswered questions," said Steve Cockburn, the AI's Head of Economic and Social Justice.

"We are urging the Qatari authorities to fully investigate all the deaths of migrant workers. If workers have been exposed to dangerous conditions such as extreme heat and no other cause of death can be established, Qatar must provide families with adequate compensation and take immediate action to ensure protections for other workers. The failure to investigate, remedy and prevent the deaths of migrant workers is a breach of Qatar's obligation to uphold and protect the right to life," he added.

According to the AI's report, epidemiological experts said that it should be possible to identify the exact cause of death in all but one per cent of cases in a well-resourced health system. However, Amnesty's review of data from major labour destinations found that the rate of mysterious deaths of migrant workers in Qatar may be close to 70 per cent.

The AI reviewed 18 death certificates of the migrant workers issued by Qatar between 2017 and 2021. Of the 18 death certificates, fifteen provided no information about the underlying causes of death. Instead, these certificates used the terms such as 'acute heart failure due to natural causes', 'heart failure unspecified' and 'acute respiratory failure due to natural causes'. Similar phrases were used in the reports of more than half of the 35 deaths recorded as 'non-work related' on World Cup facilities since 2015, suggesting that meaningful investigations were unlikely to have been carried out in these cases.

For example, Tul Bahadur Gharti, 34, worked as a construction worker. He died in his sleep on 28 May 2020 after working for around ten hours in temperature that reached 39°C. Likewise, Yam Bahadur Rana, 34, worked as an airport security guard, a job which involved long hours of sitting under the scorching sun. He died at work on 22 February 2020.

The AI interviewed the families of the deceased in Nepal and Bangladesh. Family members were shocked by the deaths as they expressed the belief that their relatives were in good health. Several families complained that their relatives had regularly been exposed to extreme heat and difficult working conditions.

Rana's wife Bhumisara said, "My husband had to sit under the scorching sun for a long time. I feel he had a heart attack due to dryness and heat because I had never heard about his sickness."

Gharti's wife Bipana said, "I had never heard him mention a single illness... it was hard to believe when I heard the news of his sudden death... My husband was set on fire. I feel like I'm burning in oil."

A version of this article appears in the print on August 27 2021, of The Himalayan Times.