Migrant Workers and Their Overseas Ordeal


Women working to plant saplings in Rupani VDC of Nepal. These women get Rs 2 per sapling planted and they plant around 500 to 600 saplings a day. This has made them economically empowered. When women are economically empowered, they empower their family. Women get voice from economic freedom. When they do not have this work, they find work as labourers.

August Analysis

Everyday numerous Nepalis travel abroad to various destinations as migrant labourers. These Nepali migrant workers form a significant bedrock in shaping the state’s economy. The foreign remittance sent by them is a significant source of income for the country. In the fiscal year 2018/2019, 28% of the GDP was covered by remittance.[1] Despite the country’s massive reliance on toiled money of the migrant workers, the government has, as always, failed to pay much regard to their concerns. The government’s behaviour towards the misery of  migrant workers has been rather uncompassionate. The COVID crisis has merely unveiled the government’s attitude towards the migrant workers.

Condition of the Migrant Workers Overseas

The COVID-19 crisis has hit the migrant workers as many workers have lost their jobs and have been stranded in various labour destination countries. Most of them are living without wages with no financial means to support themselves during this crisis with many wishing to return to be with their families. As per the preparatory report submitted by the Nepal  government, approximately half a million laborers in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman desire to return home.[2]

Nepali labourers have approached the embassies in various destination countries seeking help to return home since the lockdown started. However, the embassies have been quite unresponsive and indifferent towards the distress of the migrant workers. Although embassies are under the obligation to provide the basic neccesities for its citizens, they have done very little in addressing their issues, disregarding their responsibilities.[3] The migrant workers have expressed that the treatment they receive from the embassy is very callous.[4] Moreover, the government of these countries have shown utter disregard towards the the concerns of these migrant workers. These nations, as a result, have come under heavy scrutiny of the human rights activists.

Impassiveness of Nepal Government

The Government of Nepal is under immsense pressure to repatriate its stranded citizens as soon as possible. The government’s deferral  in delivering  relief to its stranded nationals abroad has raised concerns. Following much criticisms, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Secuity (MoLESS) came up with a repatriation guideline on June 30, with a proposition to rescue the disadvantaged and vulnerable ones for free. The Supreme Court’s direction the government to ensure free evacuation of the needy migrant workers was incorporated in the guideline.[5] However, the decision of the government to repatriate only 150 workers in the span of three days has completely failed to comprehend the urgency of repatriation.

Migrant workers have expressed their discontent regarding the new guideline as at this rate they would be stranded indefinitely. Moreover, the implementation of the guideline has faced numerous impediments. The recruiting agencies have been evading its resposibilties laid down in the guideline to ensure that the migrant workers receive the flight tickets, salary and other benefits from their employers, which further results in extending their misery.[6]

Further, there have been multiple episodes where the decisions of the government has worked against the workers. In addition to this, the last minute decision of cancelling the repatriation flight taken by the COVID-19 Crisis Management Committee on August 31 created a chaotic situation for the already desolate laborers.[7] The cancellation of the flights citing the reason as lack of quarantines merely depicts the unpreparedness and glaring incompetence of the government in handling the crisis.

Subsequently, the government’s decision to resume the evacuation with mandatory stay at listed hotel quarantines with all the hotel expenses incurred to be borne by the returnees comes off as a false pretence to help the returnees. This entire act is merely exhibitory. This distancing from the ground realities is quite apparent from this particular decision taken by the government. This decision prevents the poor migrant workers to come back and compels them to live in dire circumstances in the destination countries. The Government preventing them from coming back is depriving them off a life with dignity and is a gross violation of their human rights.

Situation of Migrant workers in Homeland

Nonetheless, the grass is not greener for the returness back home also. The widespread unemployment and the falling economy has affected the returnees. Most of them have retuned with barely any savings and now are struggling for their livelihood. The government could introduce packages and incentives for returnee migrant workers that bring new skills with them and make some arrangements for them. Sadly, this clearly does not fall under the priority of the government.  The future of the migrant workers in Sudurpaschim and Karnali appear to be grim. Food scarcity has compelled them to starve themselves to sleep.[8] Many migrant workers have left to go back to India amidst the pandemic, making themselves more susceptable to contracting the virus. The government has failed to provide them with  something as basic as food security. The National Human Rights Commision has admonished the government to perform its obligation towards its citizens and pay regard to the constitutional guarantees.[9]

The manner in which the government has handled the issue of migrant workers is despicable. The outcry and distress of the migrant workers has been overlooked to a large extent. The government has failed to understand the urgency of the situation and has trivialised the sufferings of the migrant workers overseas and here as well. The government needs to take immediate steps to mitigate their issues.

[1] https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/—ilo-kathmandu/documents/briefingnote/wcms_748917.pdf

[2] https://southasianvoices.org/covid-19-and-nepals-migration-crisis/

[3] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/06/16/nepali-embassies-ill-treatment-of-workers-continues-even-during-pandemic

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/nepal-govt-finalises-repatriation-guideline-after-12000-workers-come-home.html

[6] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/07/27/recruiting-agencies-decry-government-directive-on-repatriation-of-migrant-workers

[7] https://www.nepalitimes.com/here-now/who-is-in-charge-in-nepal/?fbclid=IwAR2IQtMkJR4qNz8Z5FHNuOkRBCCmWnveYqoyXsbdywcQ2joJJ0AViRfIgEw

[8] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/08/09/i-and-my-wife-go-to-bed-hungry-to-keep-children-fed?fbclid=IwAR3EURfJ5yaR4jb-hFKIESPKv0HTxmNwBtK7tKd_PH_AjwAKaS7KtZ-_1DQ

[9] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/nhrc-urges-govt-to-protect-covid-19-hit-nepali-migrant-workers-rights.html?fbclid=IwAR0bOgqLtOSxeBWevI8jO9fJWp2PP7ZtDBgjCQ5SY6YK9bZyEuFzcQLgFd0

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