Dozens killed in fire at Kuwait building housing foreign workers

At least 49 people are dead after a fire ripped through a residential building housing foreign workers in Kuwait on Wednesday, according to Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior.

Video circulating on social media and geolocated by CNN showed the moment the blaze engulfed the six-story building in the Mafreg area of the city. Around 150 people were living in the block when fire broke out on the ground floor, police official Sayyed Hasan Ebrahim told Kuwaiti state television.

The cause of the fire, which has been contained, is unknown but the presence of more than 20 cooking gas tanks and flammable material in the overcrowded block caused it to spread quickly, Ebrahim said.

Most of the fatalities were due to suffocation, Gen. Eid Rashed, from the police criminal forensic department, told state television. He warned the death toll could rise, adding that 11 people were being treated in hospitals. Authorities had identified three of the bodies, he said, but did not say if their families had been notified.

A fire department official said the large number of floors and escape corridors made it difficult for the trapped residents to escape the burning building.

Indian nationals were among those killed, according to the Indian foreign ministry. The country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the fire a “mishap” and described it as “saddening.”

“My thoughts are with all those who have lost their near and dear ones. I pray that the injured recover at the earliest,” Modi said on X.

Modi also directed his government to “extend all possible assistance” to the Kuwait authorities. India’s minister of external affairs is traveling to Kuwait to oversee relief efforts and repatriate deceased Indian citizens.

India’s Ambassador to Kuwait, Adarsh Swaika visited several of the injured in hospital and the site of the fire.

Kuwaiti security forces gather at the building that was engulfed by fire in Kuwait City, on June 12, 2024. - Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images
Kuwaiti security forces gather at the building that was engulfed by fire in Kuwait City, on June 12, 2024. - Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images

Photos of the aftermath show a blackened ground floor, with Kuwaiti security forces assessing the damage. The owner of the building has been detained and investigated for negligence, the reports added.

Migrants make up two-thirds of Kuwait’s private workforce, and rights groups have long said they face legal and discriminatory challenges not experienced by Kuwaiti nationals. Human Rights Watch’s 2023 World Report noted migrant workers in Kuwait face “verbal, physical and sexual abuse” and are often “forcibly confined in their employers’ homes.” A 2023 study by international and Kuwaiti researchers said Kuwait’s existing labor regulations are inadequate, finding “substantial increases in occupational injury risk” from hot temperatures despite a previous government effort to address the matter.

“Socially disadvantaged workers and migrant workers, in particular, can be disproportionately affected by hazardous heat,” the study said. “These vulnerable workers tend to take risky jobs with little health and safety training, work longer hours, receive less pay, face cultural and language barriers, and fear a looming risk of deportation. They have been found to sustain greater rates of occupational injuries.”

The Embassy of the State of Kuwait in Washington did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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