Remittance is great, but what of the workers’ suffering abroad?


Two Third Majority

Nepali youth often choose foreign employment, despite its severe effects on their physical and mental health, due to the lack of job opportunities at home. Approximately 1,300 migrant workersdepart from Nepal on a daily basis to Gulf countries for employment. Many Nepalis are living under inhumane conditions in those foreign lands.

Among the Gulf countries, Qatar is the number one destination country for Nepali migrant workers. As of May 2017, about 400,000 Nepalis had moved to Qatar as migrant workers. Nepalis make up the second largest expatriate community there. Most workers from Nepal are unskilled labourers and hold jobs in sectors such as construction and landscaping. The Department of Foreign Employment’s data shows that the majority of Nepali workers there work in job sectors described as dirty, difficult and dangerous. In the current context, many workers from Nepal have been hired to construct infrastructure for FIFA World Cup 2022.

Miserable conditions

An investigative report, titled Trapped in Qatar by Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln (WDR), a German public broadcaster, published on June 6, outlines the dreadful conditions of Nepali migrants working on the construction of stadiums for the World Cup. The migrant workers are living without money or food, in cramped spaces, and in prison-like conditions. Their passports have been confiscated by their employers, and they are not able to leave the country. The report found that about two hundred workers share a toilet and as many as eight of them live in a single small room. Some of them have not been paid for 13 months or more. The report also revealed that at least 1,400 Nepalis have lost their lives in those construction fields. However, the families of the deceased told WDR that they have not received any compensation from Doha.

Qatar, in 2016, abolished the Kafala System which was a near-feudal system which bound labourers to their employers. They then implemented a new contract-based law, saying that this would ensure greater flexibility and protection. The government of Nepal and the Qatar government signed a bilateral agreement in 2005, and the National Human Rights Commission and Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee signed a memorandum of understanding on the protection of Nepali migrant workers in Qatar in 2015. Yet, all these ‘reforms’ reek of tokenism, since the workers’ rights are still being threatened.

It is undeniable that the Qatar hosting the World Cup 2022 opened up numerous employment opportunities for people from poor countries—Nepal being one of them. But questions arise about who should be held accountable to ensure the human rights of workers employed to build World Cup-related infrastructure. Also, who would be responsible for the death of workers? Is it FIFA, being the organisers of the event? Should it rest with Qatar? Or perhaps with Nepal?

Qatar’s successful bid to host the World Cup was very controversial given the country’s application of Kafala, the potential prohibition of homosexual fans, and the multiple violations of human rights. Moreover, the construction of the required infrastructure needs more than a decade of constant work, and it is very difficult to work at temperatures higher than 50 degrees Celsius, which is common in Qatar. These reasons prove that Qatar isn’t a suitable place to host the World Cup. Despite all this, FIFA awarded the hosting rights to this gulf country without even conducting a proper feasibility study.

Infrastructure costs for World Cup events are left to the host countries. According to the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), Qatar will spend $100 billion on infrastructure linked to the World Cup alone. Ironically, the labourers of such a big project are being deprived of their wages and are being forced to live under inhumane conditions. By analysing these facts, it can be surmised that the sole concern of FIFA and the host country is profit-making; ignoring the workers’ human rights.

Not really a choice

Why are Nepalis choosing foreign migration in Qatar despite these life-threatening challenges? National politics has always been an influencing factor for youth out-migration. In Nepal, remittance amounts to one-third of the GDP, and most of it comes from Gulf countries. Out-migration has become a trend as the youth are choosing foreign employment over jobs in their own country. This is also because the government’s policies are not in line with the needs and aspirations of the youth. One recent case is the implementation of the Prime Minister Employment Programme (PMEP). The government came up with the PMEP, with the provision of a minimum of 100 days of employment in a year for the unemployed. But the programme has been ineffective. Numerous instances of the programme catering mostly to people with access to authority have been found. The dismal scenario has influenced many individuals to look at foreign employment as an alternative livelihood strategy.

The government has to build measures to ensure the rights of every single Nepali seeking employment in foreign lands. It has to lobby with the host country to provide justice and compensation to the families of the deceased workers. With better policies, it has to enable improved outcomes for the people who have gone to a foreign land to uplift their standard of living—and that of their families. Lastly, the government should create employment opportunities within the country and make better plans which will serve as a pull factor for Nepali youth to stay and work within Nepal.

Prabha Poudel

Poudel is an intern in CESIF and is pursuing an MA in Gender Studies at Tribhuvan University.

This article was first published in The Kathmandu Post on July 13, 2019.

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