As Liverpool fans stream into Qatar to watch the Fifa Club World Cup next week, it will be easy to forget the thousands of workers from the poorest countries in the region who have toiled for years to construct its glittering buildings.
When they take their seats at the Khalifa International Stadium, where Liverpool will play their semi-final match, they may not realise that scores of workers who refurbished the stadium were housed in filthy, overcrowded accommodation with an ever-present stench of raw sewage.
There will be no announcements to inform them that these men were paid less than promised, their passports were confiscated and they were unable to change jobs or quit the country, leaving some vulnerable to forced labour, a modern form of slavery, according to Amnesty International.
And looking up at the soaring stadium arches, there will be nothing to remind them that British construction worker Zac Cox fell to his death here in 2017.
Fifa announced on Saturday that the original venue for the game on 18 December, the dazzling new Education City Stadium, was not match ready. But the Khalifa stadium also has a story of death and indifference at the highest levels of the game.
In 2017, practices at the stadium were described as “downright dangerous” by a coroner at the UK inquest into Cox’s death.
In June, a 24-year-old labourer from Nepal, Rupchandra Rumba, died gasping for breath in a squalid labour camp on the outskirts of Doha. He was working as a scaffolder at Education City Stadium.
Nearly six months after he died, and more than two months since the Guardian first revealed her plight, Rumba’s wife, Nirmala Pakrin, has still not received any compensation.
Sitting in her small room on the edge of Kathmandu, with photos of her husband on the walls, Pakrin says their six-year-old son, Niraj, is struggling to accept that his father is not coming home. “He keeps asking: ‘Where’s my dad? Why is he not calling? When will he come?’” she says.
In recent weeks, Pakrin says the director of the company that employed Rumba has been pressuring her to accept a pay-off of 7,000 Qatari rials (£1,460).
She says she feels afraid. “I’m concerned about my safety. He is using threatening language,” she says.
Her brother, Pradip Pakrin, has dismissed the offer, saying: “We have to fight for what is right. If we accept this, other families will suffer.”
Nick McGeehan, a director of Fair/Square Projects and an expert on migrant workers in the Gulf, says: “We appear to have this appalling situation where the families of workers who have died get derisory pay-offs or nothing at all from Qatar.” McGeehan says the supreme committee, the body organising the Club World Cup, which starts on Wednesday, must take responsibility for the unexplained deaths of young men building its stadiums and compensate their families.
Liverpool’s CEO, Peter Moore, backed McGeehan in a letter on Tuesday, saying: “We support your assertion that any and all unexplained deaths should be investigated thoroughly and that bereaved families should receive the justice they deserve.”
Rumba’s case is not a one-off. A total of 11 stadium workers died in 2018, according to the supreme committee. Of these deaths, 10 were described as “non-work related”, mostly attributed to sudden and unexplained heart or respiratory failure.
Data on the number of deaths of stadium workers in 2019 has not yet been published.
In the past year the Guardian has spoken to the families of five deceased stadium workers, including Rumba. Two say they have not received any compensation from Qatar. The other three only received compensation after the Guardian revealed their stories last year.
“Poor people like us cannot hope to get compensation,” says Johurul Islam, whose brother-in-law, Monjurul Islam, 28, a stadium worker from Bangladesh, died in August 2018. “The Qatar government does not see us as human.”
A spokesperson for the supreme committee said in a statement that in most cases compensation is only paid when a worker dies in a work-related accident. For non-work-related deaths, “the supreme committee ensures our contractors pay final salaries [and] end of service benefits.”
The Guardian’s findings will heap pressure on Liverpool, whose participation in the tournament has come under scrutiny from fans and human rights groups.
Minky Worden, a director at Human Rights Watch, believes Liverpool’s players and management should raise these abuses and demand reforms. “Liverpool and other teams who play in Qatar should be aware that migrant workers have died to deliver the stadiums they are playing in, and at every opportunity speak up to insist that they are protected,” she says.
Last month, in an interview for the club’s television channel, Moore said the club had “gone to great lengths” to understand the issues in Qatar. “We’re not a political organisation and it’s neither our place nor our ambition to go from country to country forcing our values and our beliefs on others,” he added.
That may come as bad news to the family of Monjurul Islam. Johurul Islam says his brother-in-law paid a recruitment agent almost 500,000 Bangladeshi taka (£4,470) to secure his job in Qatar, a fee he could only afford by selling his land and taking out loans.
The agent promised him a lucrative salary, but his basic wage turned out to be just 600 Qatari rials a month (£125), says Johurul, far below the minimum wage, which itself is widely viewed as inadequate.
Johurul claims Monjurul’s direct employer, one of Qatar’s largest construction companies, did not provide any compensation. “They didn’t even pay all the salary and allowances they owed him.”
Johurul has been left devastated and confused by his death. “I was very close to him. He had no illness. His death certificate said he died of a heart attack, but I still don’t believe it,” he says.
He has good reason to be suspicious. In October the Guardian revealed that in the vast majority of cases the Qatari authorities do not carry out postmortem examinations, making it impossible to accurately determine the cause of death.
Death certificates routinely state that workers die of respiratory or cardiac failure “due to natural causes”, but such explanations are meaningless, according to a British forensic pathologist, Stuart Hamilton.
“All they say is someone died because they are dead. If a trainee pathologist presented me with these conclusions, I would tell them to go away and do some more work,” says Hamilton.
The Guardian has found that many deaths of migrant workers in Qatar are likely to be linked to the extreme summer heat, which sees workers toiling in temperatures that regularly reach 45C.
The number of World Cup 2022 stadium workers who die each year are just a fraction of the total number of migrant worker deaths. Less than 2% of Qatar’s migrant workforce are employed at World Cup stadiums, but tens of thousands are working on infrastructure to support the World Cup in 2022, including hotel, rail and road construction.
Government data from India, Nepal and Bangladesh reveal the true scale of the death toll in Qatar. At least 1,025 workers from Nepal died between 2012 and 2017, 676 of them from causes deemed to be “natural”. In 2018, 149 Bangladeshi workers died, with 107 deaths classified as “natural”. Between 2012 and August 2018, 1,678 Indian workers died. Of these deaths, 1,345 were described as “natural” – a rate of four a week.
A spokesperson for the supreme committee said the health and safety of all its workers was of the “utmost importance”. The supreme committee “investigates all non-work-related deaths and work-related fatalities … to identify contributory factors and establish how they could have been prevented. This process involves evidence collection and analysis and witness interviews to establish the facts of the incident … the responsibility to investigate the underlying causes of non-work related death lies with the relevant local authorities.”
In a statement, a Fifa spokesperson said Fifa, along with its local partners, is “fully committed to safeguarding the rights of workers” contributing to the Club World Cup and the 2022 World Cup. The spokesperson added that “significant measures have been put in place at World Cup construction sites focusing on health and safety and workers’ protection”.
Additional reporting by Roshan Sedhai in Kathmandu, and Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan and Salman Saeed in Dhaka