Rights group: Sweltering heat puts Gulf migrant workers at acute risk

Cairo, May 31 (EFE).- Millions of migrant workers in the Gulf states are facing a heightened risk of severe illnesses and even death from a blistering hot summer that could see temperatures rising to 55C, a rights group said Wednesday.

United States-based group Human Rights Watch said that although Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, prohibit outdoor work during midday, workers lack sufficient protection and, consequently, find themselves exposed to diseases that could be fatal such as heat rash, cramps, or heat stroke.

“Despite substantial scientific evidence on the devastating health impact of exposure to extreme heat, Gulf states’ protection failures are causing millions of migrant workers to face grave risks, including death,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at the organization.

The group said it does not only refer to employees working under direct sunlight like those in the construction and agriculture fields, but also to those who face the consequences of the scorching hot temperatures even while staying in the shade.

“Gulf states should prioritize creating a comprehensive strategy to address occupational heat stress, and international organizations that claim to champion international labor rights should speak out about the issue,” Page said.

The organization said it demanded that Gulf states reduce workload during periods of sweltering heat, implement necessary healthcare measures to protect workers and abolish the kafala system, which among other things ties foreign workers to their employers and restricts their ability to change jobs.

The group found that workers “faced serious and chronic health conditions that could result from extreme heat exposure” after speaking to 90 foreigners from Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Nepal about heat and humidity in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates between 2021 and 2023.

Other health issues include fever, chest pain, nosebleeds, vomiting and dehydration.

The extreme heat and high humidity in the Gulf, which reaches up to 55C in some countries such as Kuwait, was the main reason the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar was held in November and December when temperatures start dropping.

“Gulf states’ failure to protect migrant workers from lethal heat has come at a high cost to migrant workers and their families, including loss of lives and chronic illnesses,” Page said.

“To knowingly put migrant workers in harm’s way without substantial protections from heat is inhumane, and Gulf states need to act with urgency ahead of the scorching summer to address these problems,” he said. EFE


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