The head of the Qatar National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) has said the rate of fatalities among Indian workers in the country in the past two years – reported to be 478 – is “normal”.
Chairman of the government-linked NHRC, Ali bin Sumaikh Al Marri, said half-a-million Indians lived in Qatar, working mainly on construction sites, and their deaths were comparable to the natural deaths of locals.
"Indians make up the largest community in Qatar... twice the number of Qatari nationals,” he was quoted as telling global news agency AFP.
"If we look at the numbers of Qataris who died... of natural causes... over the past two years, we see that numbers of deaths among the Indian community are normal."
AFP reported on Monday the Indian embassy in Doha had registered 237 worker deaths in 2012 and 218 in 2013 up to December 5, at a rate of 20 fatalities each month.
The figures, obtained under a right to information request, follow similar data revealed to AFP by the Nepalese embassy in Doha last month, showing 191 Nepali deaths recorded in 2013, with many of them from "unnatural" heart failure, compared with 169 the year before.
Al Maari said he wanted clarifications on the circumstances of the deaths, insisting there was a "campaign against Qatar", reported AFP.
Nicholas McGeehan, the Qatar and UAE researcher for the international rights group Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that while it was not helpful to dismiss the death figures as "normal" and claim it as a campaign against the country when it already has a bad safety record, there was need to clarify the causes.
"We need to hear how the workers died, and we need to find out the extent of how it was related to their living and working conditions," he said.
"The Indian embassy should be as concerned about these figures as the Qataris [...] because they give an indication of an unfolding tragedy in Qatar.”
Qatar has faced mounting criticism from human rights groups over the safety and working conditions of migrants in the construction industry, particularly as it gears up to host the 2022 World Cup.
Football world governing body FIFA has requested a report from Qatar World Cup officials detailing how it had improved safety standards.
In a report presented to the European Parliament last week, the Qatar World Cup organising committee promised that contractors who build its stadiums will be held to high standards on the welfare of migrant workers, although the standards were not widened to include all construction workers in the country.
The committee insisted it was making "tangible progress" toward reform.