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  • More needs to be done to protect migrant workers who keep Nepal’s economy afloat

Jan 12, 2016-

Nepali migrant workers are dying abroad at an alarming rate and the numbers continue to go up every year. Last year, over 1,000 Nepali workers died, according to Foreign Employment Promotion Board. Actual numbers could be much higher as the Board’s data does not include the deceased migrants whose families do not claim compensations.

Nearly one-fourth of them died reportedly in their sleep or from Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome (SUDS), which are rarely investigated in case of migrant workers. Once the authorities attribute the deaths to SUDS, the employers get off the hook and do not feel the legal obligations to compensate for the deaths. As a result, the cases of deaths remain vague and deprive the families of the deceased of the insurance claims.

Such fuzzy explanations should have been unacceptable in Least Developed Countries, let alone in middle-income countries where these migrants are currently employed. Yet these practices continue because the migrant workers are vulnerable and unprotected by law in many destination countries. In cases after cases, law enforcement agencies find it convenient to side with the employers, rather than foreign employees.

The reason these migrant workers, who contribute so much to both the sending and receiving countries’ economy, are forced to take so much risk with little protection is that their own governments take least interest in them. And these vulnerabilities start at home.

At every stage, they are exploited by the recruiting agencies, by clinics that conduct their medical tests and government departments that are supposed to offer them protection. They are forced to pay a hefty fee to middlemen and consultants even for processes that are supposed to require no payment. 

Last year, the Nepal government announced that it would enforce a free-visa and free-ticket policy, a welcome step that was widely hailed by migrant workers and advocacy groups. But inadequate homework and weak enforcement have instead created confusion and added to the complexity of the already cumbersome migration process. The policy is yet to be a success—partly due to resistance from powerful recruitment agencies’ lobbying and partly due to government’s inability to sign agreements with Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, where an estimated two million Nepalis work. The governments of Qatar and Bahrain insist that they are providing free visa and ticket but unscrupulous middlemen on both sides make the policy ineffective. 

Our government needs to expedite diplomatic efforts to put in place the protection regime with all destination countries, while increasing dedicated diplomatic personnel to support migrant workers. So far it has deputed only 45 diplomatic staffers to oversee over three million workers in Gulf countries, Malaysia and South Korea—major destinations for our migrant workers. This is clearly inadequate. 

Published: 12-01-2016 08:53

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