Remembering the Migrant Workers Who Died in Qatar

A new website honors migrant workers in Qatar who have recently died by commemorating their lives in the format of a digitized array of collectible FIFA World Cup 2022 cards — a reference to the thousands of deaths over nearly 12 years of preparations for the event.

Cards of Qatar was created by the Swedish investigative journalistic group Blankspot with the support of soccer app Forza Football and advertising agency Forsman & Bodenfors. On its front face, each card displays a worker’s headshot, name, years of life, and country of origin. As visitors hover over each card, the back side is revealed, on which brief descriptions of each person’s aspirations, work history, and circumstances of death are printed, including quotes from loved ones.

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“These workers are not just statistics. Their stories need to be heard,” Blankspot Chief Editor and Co-Founder Martin Schibbye says in a statement on Cards of Qatar’s website.

A Card of Qatar graphic honoring Zobair Ahmed (screenshot Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

Each card is accompanied by a profile in which loved ones recount what they were told about workers’ deaths and the economic circumstances that led them to go to Qatar.

Migrant workers, who hail from surrounding countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, constitute the majority of Qatar’s population. Many of them labor under precarious, low-wage conditions, in strenuous jobs like construction — especially so since 2010, when the small, wealthy country won its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Migrant workers have been critical to the multi-year effort by the country to build new stadiums, highways, roads, and other infrastructure for the anticipated influx of tourists and athletes.

The World Cup was rescheduled this year to the winter to avoid subjecting athletes to playing games in the unsafe heat in June and July. Workers, however, continued to labor through the grueling summer months.

Last year, the Guardian reported that approximately 6,500 South Asian migrant workers had died in Qatar since 2010, many as a result of toiling in extreme heat with few labor protections. State officials have vehemently refuted the estimate, calling it “inaccurate” and “wildly misleading.” Exact numbers are difficult to tabulate because many deceased workers did not receive formal medical examinations, and because common causes of death from overwork appear to be natural. 

Nevertheless, human rights organizations like Amnesty International have condemned abusive labor conditions in the country, where workers routinely go unpaid, are forced to work long hours in the heat, and cannot leave their jobs because of the country’s sponsorship system. They also criticize authorities in Qatar for insufficiently investigating workers’ deaths. 

“I am planning to send the cards, of course, to Qatar and officials in the country, to FIFA,” Schibbye says in a video about Cards of Qatar. He also calls on sponsors like Coca-Cola, Adidas, and Budweiser to take responsibility for the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar. “I want to know what they are thinking when they read these stories. I want to know what their plan is to make sure that this never happens again.”


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