The World Cup is coming to an end, but the migrant economy goes on

KATHMANDU, Nepal – What will happen to the workers who helped Qatar finish the World Cup?

The small nation of Nepal has sent more workers to Qatar per capita than any other country.

In the fall of 2022, The New York Times spoke to nearly three dozen Nepalese — current and former construction workers in Qatar and their families — to learn what their lives are like now and what’s next for them. Most had worked on World Cup-related construction projects, including stadiums and other infrastructure that supported Qatar’s development boom.

After holding out for a while exploitative or dangerous conditionsmany workers said they were stuck in poverty and debt and had 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 it’ Mr Sunuwar, 44, is now back home in Kathmandu after years of working in a steel factory in Qatar, where doctors say he has developed severe occupational asthma.

Mr Sunuwar knows that working abroad – which would mean taking on more debt to secure a job and then having limited control over his working conditions – could pose a risk to his health. But despite these concerns, he’s seriously considering it.

Times reporters witnessed an almost daily scene at Nepal’s main international airport in Kathmandu: the arrival of coffins, mostly from the Gulf and Malaysia, containing the bodies of migrant workers. Since 2010, when the World Cup was awarded to Qatar, 2,100 Nepalese have died there from all causes, according to the Nepalese Labor Ministry.

An estimated 2,000 migrant workers continue to leave the same airport every day. Despite grueling working conditions, such as the extreme heat in the Gulf, many feel they have no alternative to working abroad. As a result, young men are absent from many homes and families live years apart. About a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product is generated abroad, one of the highest percentages of any country.

Nicole Salazar and Sarah Kerr reports from Kathmandu and Doha, Qatar, and Pramod Acharya from Kathmandu. The World Cup is coming to an end, but the migrant economy goes on

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