Oped

Narrow escape

  • An inside look at the labour migration cycle shows the pitiful plight of Nepali migrant workers
- MIRIAM SHENDROFF

Nov 7, 2017-Deepak’s story is one of hardship and tragedy, and it is unfortunately a narrative that is all too common amongst Nepali migrant workers. Growing up in the Kavre district, Deepak was the oldest of eight siblings. Neither of his parents saw any value in education. Deepak was forced to drop out of school at the age of 11 and began to work alongside his parents in a brick factory. As he grew older, he struggled to support himself and his family. One day he met an agent who convinced him to take a job as a security guard abroad. Like most potential migrant workers, Deepak saw the opportunity as an exciting way to earn a living, while having a chance to travel the world.

He was asked by the agent to come to the visa processing centre with Rs30,000 to pay the processing fees and was reassured that he would be making Rs45,000 a month in Dubai. The agency began asking for more and more money; they claimed the cash was needed for processing fees and by the time the process was complete Deepak had spent a total of Rs50,000. As he was making his way to the airport, he realised that he had been given a tourist visa instead of a work visa.

It is highly likely that the agent Deepak used was not officially registered. The Open Society Foundation has found that about 98 percent of agents are not registered and therefore are not accountable for the terms they offer to migrant workers. In Nepal, there are around 1,800 registered agents and 80,000 unregistered ones.

At the airport, Deepak became a prime target for agents looking to recruit desperate and vulnerable workers. He was approached by another agent who offered him the opportunity to work as a labourer in Qatar. As Deepak was already in debt from paying for his visa processing fees, he saw no other option than to accept the position.

Upon reaching Qatar, he was told that the company he would be working for would be confiscating his passport. This is not uncommon, because Qatari law allows sponsors to keep the passports of the workers they sponsor in their possession while the worker is obtaining residency, however it has become increasingly common for sponsors to keep the passport for the entire duration of the worker’s stay.

Another challenge that migrant workers face upon arrival to their destination country is that they are often forced to sign new contracts that have very different terms than what they originally agreed to. In Deepak’s case, he was told he was going to have to carry a lot more weight than he was able to lift and would not be provided with gloves, boots, or water. None of this was written into his original contract but without possession of his passport, and riddled with debt, he saw no other option but to agree.

Deepak was forced to work extremely hard and was not given any of the medical checks that he was promised. The working conditions that Deepak endured at the construction site were inhumane. He slept in a camp house with other workers in a room that was overcrowded, dark, and reeking of sweat and rotting garbage.

After three months of preforming hard labour, a lack of safety precautions left Deepak covered in bruises, and suffering from dizzy spells. He faced both physical and mental abuse at the hands of his foreman.

It was not until Deepak failed to receive his salary for three consecutive months that he decided to leave. This is easier said than done because employers use visa restrictions and withholding passports to force migrants to carry out their job contract. Deepak’s employers told him if he wished to return back home he would need to pay Rs61,096. The manpower agency back in Nepal refused to book him on any flights or assist him in any way.

Under the Foreign Employment Act, recruitment agencies have an obligation to bring workers back to Nepal if they face specific problems. However, the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) has informed Amnesty International that in 2016 only 0.0001 percent of the total number of migrant workers abroad had been helped by their recruitment agency to return home. Deepak took his case to the Nepali embassy, who assisted him by calling the manpower agency and threatening to shut down their operations if they did not agree to book his flight home and return his passport.

Deepak made it back home to his family. Today he is living and working in Chitwan and is able to support his family. Unfortunately, this is not the case for hundreds of migrant workers each year.  

Shendroff is interning at the Center for Migration and International Relations

Published: 07-11-2017 08:19

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