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The World Cup is coming to an end, but the migrant labor economy continues

KATHMANDU, Nepal — As the World Cup draws to a close, what will become of the workers who helped Qatar make it possible?

The tiny nation of Nepal 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 family members — to find out what their lives are like now and what to expect next. . Most had worked on World Cup-related construction projects, including stadiums and other infrastructure that supported Qatar’s development boom.

After enduring sometimes exploitative or dangerous conditions, many workers said they remained 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 worker Ganga Bahadur Sunuwar. “We are obligated to do this.” Mr Sunuwar, 44, is now back home in Kathmandu after years working at a steelworks 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 get a job and then having limited control over his working conditions – could be a risk to his health. But despite these concerns, he is 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, carrying the bodies of migrant workers. Since 2010, when the World Cup was awarded to Qatar, 2,100 Nepalese have died there of all causes, according to the Nepalese 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 alternative to overseas employment. 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.

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