Print Edition - 2017-12-17  |  Free the Words

Protecting workers without borders

  • Nepal should benefit from migration, but not at the cost of the rights and wellbeing of migrants

Dec 17, 2017-

Migration is now a global phenomenon and most countries are simultaneously countries of origin, transit and destination for migrants. There are an estimated 244 million international migrants and 740 million internal migrants in the world today. This number, which is more than at any other time in recorded history, is a reflection of the challenge to the world in making migration safe and orderly, upholding the wellbeing and human rights of migrants, and encouraging socio-economic development through migration.

In Nepal the government has issued over 3.8 million permits to work abroad (excluding India) over the past two decades. That number represents almost 14 percent of the current population. In recent years, overseas employment has been the main motivation for international migration from Nepal.

Despite the fact that Nepal has achieved remarkable progress in poverty reduction in recent years, it remains a least developed country with annual per capita income of USD 730 and GDP of USD 21.14 billion (World Bank 2016.)

The effects of development have varied throughout Nepal and income inequality and poverty rates differ across the country. Poor infrastructure, a weak domestic economy and high unemployment, coupled with the devastating earthquake of 2015, have resulted in foreign employment emerging as a common livelihood strategy. Poverty, food insecurity, lack of jobs, climate change and environmental degradation all contribute to outward migration.

Towards better management

The magnitude of Nepali labour migration has brought new opportunities and new challenges for the government and policymakers. A primary concern has been how to manage the huge outflows, while ensuring the safety, rights and welfare of migrant workers.

Although a free visa, free ticket policy has been introduced, translating this into practice has been particularly challenging. Pre-departure charges, commissions and fees, including hidden expenses for foreign employment and permits, are still costly.

The current process of recruitment and employment of Nepali migrant workers, from responding to job ads, signing contracts, permit approval, travel and arrival in the country of destination, is still fraught with risks. There are cases of labour migrants suffering from abuses and exploitation.

On the other hand, Nepali migrants have transformed the country’s economic and socio-cultural fabric over the past decade. Nepal has emerged as a remittance economy, built in part by cash sent home by migrants.  In terms of the contribution of remittances to GDP, it is now the third-largest recipient of remittances worldwide, and 

the top recipient among the least developed countries.

Moves in the right direction

The government of Nepal (GoN) has also moved to address challenges in the foreign employment sector by enacting legal instruments, ratifying several rights-based conventions and working together with other countries, the United Nations, and civil society organisations to protect migrants’ rights. It also plays an active role in several regional consultative processes such as the Colombo Process, the Abu-Dhabi Dialogue, the Asia-EU dialogue and the Bali Process.

As the current Chair of the Colombo Process, the GoN has an opportunity to promote new initiatives that bring together member states to ensure humane, orderly, safe and dignified migration in line with human rights principles and international obligations. Facilitating bilateral and regional policy dialogue is key to promote policy coherence and innovative mechanisms that advances migration governance at all levels in order to ensure the rights and well-being of migrants and their families.

Earlier, Nepal played a significant role in ensuring the inclusion of labour migration in the 18th Saarc Summit 2014 Declaration and the Saarc ‘Plan of Action for Cooperation on Labour Migration’ adopted in May 2016. 

In April 2010 the Government also undertook the review of the 2002 ‘Saarc Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.’ The review identified the limitations of the Convention and noted the need for increased cooperation among Saarc member states to further harmonise domestic trafficking definitions, laws and penalties.

Recently, the GoN convened multi-stakeholder consultations to develop a national position paper on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). The GCM process has helped to identify country specific challenges, opportunities and priorities for actions that can address a range of issues associated with migration while preventing exploitation and promoting development.

Safe, orderly and regular migration contributes to economic growth and sustainable development. Migration, therefore, for the first time features prominently in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030. This breaks new ground by recognising the positive contribution of migrants for inclusive growth and the multi-dimensional reality of migration. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is a significant actor in the implementation of migration-related SDG objectives.

IOM has consistently supported the Government of Nepal as it moves towards ensuring the rights and wellbeing of migrants, and leverages the economic, human and social benefits of migration into national development.

Strategies for safe and better-paid labour migration that protects the human rights of migrants must be prioritised. The process that an aspiring migrant worker goes through before, during and after foreign employment, needs to be more systematised and transparent. A much deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the foreign employment phenomenon in all of its dimensions is needed.

Migration represents a major development and humanitarian challenge, calling for a broad and comprehensive perspective. An expansive and multi-faceted approach is therefore needed to deal with the issues, challenges and gaps, and to harness the emerging opportunities that it offers. Ultimately, we see a mainstreaming of migration and development as being to the benefit of everyone and celebrate International Migrants Day.


- Norton is Chief of Mission of IOM Nepal

Published: 17-12-2017 07:56

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