Sharp rise in worker suicides raises concerns in Qatar

Sharp rise in worker suicides raises concerns in Qatar
A string of suicides in Doha's Indian community has sparked fresh concern for the welfare of the Qatar's migrant workers, who make up around 86 percent of the country's population
3 min read
27 Feb, 2016
Indians make up the largest group of migrant workers in Qatar, numbering around 545,000 [Getty]

Only two months into 2016, Indian community leaders in Qatar have already reported around 10 cases of suicide among the country's migrant workers. This alarming trend in the number of Indian workers taking their own lives has led to calls for more mental health services to be provided.

With much attention now directed towards Qatar's treatment of its migrant workers in the run-up to the World Cup, it seems, however, that the cases of suicide are not limited to those working in the labour sector.

A recent news story published online by the Gulf Times told of the tragic case of an Indian entrepreneur who took his life after the fortunes of his engineering firm had taken a turn for the worse. Having succumbed to the mental pressure brought on by financial difficulties, the businessman reportedly became the ninth Indian migrant to have committed suicide in Qatar in a period of just over two weeks.

The financial obligations placed upon Qatar's Indian community are not dissimilar from that of Indians working elsewhere in the region.

With some seven million Indian migrants finding employment in the Gulf countries, many of their dependents at home in India rely on much of the staggering $40 billion that is sent back each year.

In recent years, the treatment and health of workers in the UAE and Qatar has become the subject of global concern as the emirate prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Qatar alone is host to an estimated 1.5 million migrant workers, who have fuelled the country's construction boom.

According to a report published by Amnesty International last year, many migrant workers in Qatar face "pathetic" and "oppressive" conditions, with working days starting as early as 4am. Many will also recall an infographic published by the Washington Post in May 2015 that claimed more than 1,000 migrant workers had died in the Gulf state whilst working on World Cup construction sites.

The viral story was later revised by the news outlet due to inaccuracy, but the damage was done nonetheless.

Since then, Qatar has instituted labour reforms that include a clampdown on companies and recruiters who break the law, and an electronic complaints system that operates in seven languages.

Critics of these reforms, including Amnesty International and the International Trade Union Commission (ITUC), attacked the changes as ineffective. Amnesty slammed Qatar’s government as having done, "almost nothing effective to end chronic labour exploitation".

The recent sharp rise in suicides among Indian workers in Qatar is coupled with the publishing of a report that explored the health of Indian workers in the GCC. In conducting the investigation, Dr Shamim Begam found a high prevalence of hypertension, diabetes and obesity amongst the migrant workers.

"High costs of medical care in Gulf countries, lack of provision for medical care from the employers in many places and inadequate time due to long working hours were the factors understood behind this," Dr Begam told the Khaleej Times.

"Gulf migrants are ignored by both government and health system in spite of repeated calls from the WHO about the growing threat of NCDs in developing countries," she continued.

With such critical challenges facing the Gulf's migrant worker communities, small efforts are underway to help alleviate the strain. In some parts of the Gulf, yoga classes have been set up to help workers cope with stress levels, and Indians in the UAE have recently been urged to make use of a fund of more than $318,000 made available to them by the Indian consulates in the Gulf.

Recent figures show that the number of Indians seeking help from the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) had increased by almost 50 percent from 2014 to 2015.