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Rights Watchdog Comes Down on Government Over Migrant Repatriation
As a result of poor preparations, the number of workers languishing abroad goes up by the day and they get no support from authorities, National Human Rights Commission says
Chandan Kumar Mandal
The Kathmandu Post
15 August 2020
On Wednesday, the Nepal Embassy in the United Arab of Emirates published a notice on its official Facebook page informing that 13,785 migrant Nepalis had been repatriated through 82 flights since June.
What followed in the comment thread of the page was a barrage of criticisms and complaints from the Nepali workers based in the Gulf state against the embassy and the government of Nepal.
“It’s been six months and I have not got a ticket. The Nepal Embassy doesn’t even open the embassy gate. They make us wait outside in 40 degrees heat for two hours and turn us away saying our work will be done,” commented one Rupesh Katuwal, who also mentioned in the comment that his visa expired on March 2. “Someone please help me return home.”
Another commenter Narayan Lama wrote: “Only 13,785 out of 42,000 people who had registered for repatriation flights have returned to Nepal, and that after using their power or purchasing tickets from Nepal.”
“Is the embassy’s job only to publish the data? Shouldn’t it investigate the conditions of workers stranded for a long time and send them to Nepal at the earliest?” he said and urged the concerned government agencies to display some humanity.
The government of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has come under a barrage of criticism over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic at home. It has fared no better when it comes to repatriation of tens of thousands of migrant workers stranded in various labour destinations for months now.
Months of indecision and poor preparations on the part of the government have exacerbated the situation of Nepali migrant workers, who were already suffering after losing their jobs due to the pandemic.
The National Human Rights Commission, Nepal, has raised serious concerns over the situation of Nepal’s migrant workers awaiting government help to return home.
The clear lack of preparations to bring home stranded Nepali migrant workers in the early months of the pandemic has made the situation worse as the number of people who need to be repatriated is increasing, the rights body said in its report published on Thursday.
A large number of Nepali workers are stranded in various countries that have been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of them are struggling to survive after their employers have not only stopped paying them but have also refused to fund their air tickets to return home. These cannot afford for repatriation chartered flights.
“The government spent a long time on a wait and watch mode. There was so much confusion on starting the repatriation process,” says Jeevan Baniya, a labour migration researcher and one the co-authors of the report, said. “The effect of this delay was on the workers who had already lost their jobs and were barely getting by. Many had to ask for money from their families in Nepal.”
When the government finally announced it would bring home the stranded migrant workers, things got delayed once again due to the repatriation guidelines full of procedural complexities, like ascertaining workers’ status and who pays for their tickets. Once again, it was migrant workers who paid the price.
“It was an extraordinary situation that called for extraordinary measures from the government. But that did not happen. The whole repatriation process has been a sluggish affair,” said Baniya, who is also the assistant director of Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM) under Social Science Baha.
The National Human Rights Commission, reports that some Covid-19 infected Nepalis are being deprived of health services, test and treatment in labour destination countries, but the concerned Nepali missions have no record of Nepalis who have been infected or have died of the disease.
Nepalis who cannot pay for their flights, quarantine fees and travel expenses to their hometowns are not getting any support and that they continue to languish in foreign lands, the report said.
According to the government, 50,130 Nepalis from 30 countries have returned home since the lockdown was enforced on March 24.
In May the Foreign Employment Board had estimated that over 400,000 Nepali workers were likely to return home as a result of the pandemic and 127,000 were waiting to return immediately. A few days after this data came out the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the other hand, said that 210,871 needed to be immediately rescued.
Government authorities do not seem to have one set of data on Nepali migrant workers awaiting repatriation.
“If we calculate on the basis of the number of work permits that expire every day, then around 214,000 such permits have expired as of Wednesday,” said Rameshwar Nepal, a labour migration researcher and the co-author of the Commission report.
“The repatriation process was delayed in the first place because the data prepared by Nepali missions and government agencies were not reliable,” said Sudip Pathak, a member of the commission.
The knock-on effect of the disputed data was delayed repatriation, which in turn led to more and more workers losing their jobs and facing pay cuts as the months wore on.
“Workers were terminated and some did not get their full salaries, and they could not even exercise their rights as per the labour laws of the host nations,” said Pathak. While the government underestimated the number of workers who needed to be rescued, the number of out-of-job migrant workers were increasing with every passing day, according to Nepal.
“Workers are still stranded abroad because the repatriation process was not expedited. Our diplomatic initiatives were not adequate to protect Nepali workers. Life and aspirations of poor migrant workers are under threat because government policies have not helped them,” Nepal said.