KATHMANDU, Nepal – As the World Cup draws to a close, what will happen to the workers who helped Qatar?
The small country of Nepal sent more workers per capita to Qatar than any other country.
In the fall of 2022, The New York Times spoke with nearly three dozen Nepalis—current and former construction workers in Qatar and members of their families—to find out what their lives are like now and what lies ahead. Most worked on World Cup-related construction projects, including stadiums and other infrastructure that supported Qatar’s development boom.
After surviving sometimes exploitative or dangerous conditions, many workers said they remain stuck in poverty and debt, with no choice but to continue working abroad, regardless of the risks.
“Working in a foreign country is not a choice,” said one worker, Ganga Bahadur Sunuwar. “We are forced to do this.” Mr. Sunuwar, 44, returned home to Kathmandu after years of working in a steel mill in Qatar, where doctors said he contracted severe occupational asthma.
Mr Sunuwar knows that working abroad – which would mean taking on additional debt to secure a job and then having limited influence over his working conditions – could pose a risk to his health. But despite these misgivings, he is seriously considering it.
Times reporters witnessed an almost daily scene at Nepal’s main international airport in Kathmandu: the arrival of coffins, mainly from the Gulf and Malaysia, carrying the bodies of migrant workers. Since 2010, when the World Cup was awarded to Qatar, 2,100 Nepalis have died from all causes there, according to Nepal’s Ministry of Labour.
An estimated 2,000 migrant workers continue to depart from the same airport every day. Despite the grueling working conditions, such as the extreme heat in the Gulf, many feel they have no other option but to work abroad. As a result, young men are absent from many homes and families spend years apart. About a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product is earned abroad, one of the highest percentages of any country.
Nicole Salazar and Sarah Kerr reported from Kathmandu and Doha, Qatar and Pramod Acharya from Kathmandu.