December 18 is marked as International Migrants Day every year. Although both domestic and international migrations have been taking place for ages, they have started drawing increasing attention in the world in recent years. As this is mixed with elements of unforeseeability, emergency and complexity and a number of challenges and difficulties, there is growing recognition among all stakeholders that all cross-border migration require enhance cooperation and collective action among countries and the region. Since millions of Nepalis are also currently living and working abroad, Nepal also faces a host of challenges in this sector.Republica’s Kosh Raj Koirala talked to Chief of Mission of International Office of Migration (IOM) in Nepal Lorena Lando to learn her observations and suggestions for Nepal. Excerpts:
How do you see the national initiatives on migration as a Chief of Mission of IOM in Nepal? Can you share your impressions about the initiatives our government has been making?
Labor migration is an important component in terms of an opportunity for Nepalis to have better work experience and income generation to support their family. About 400,000 Nepalis every year leave Nepal for opportunities to work abroad. I think there is an interest of the government to look at the policy and even the partnership and bilateral agreements with different countries. I think this is important. When the reflection is how we make safe migration for the citizens, I think Nepal has a strong interest to make it better. The government is the first one to address the questions should something go wrong. We can see that there is definitely an engagement in looking at international labor schemes and partnership with different countries to support safer migration.
It is important to protect migrants including Nepali migrants. Nepalis have become victims of trafficking. Civil society has a lot of works in terms of supporting the victims of trafficking. It is important to think about measures to minimize the risk of human trafficking. Awareness is as much important. There is a much stronger message in terms of zero tolerance to human trafficking that helps toward prosecution for cases of human trafficking. So victims can come forward and share what has happened. At the same time, there is legal framework to protect the victims of trafficking and prosecute the traffickers. I believe that there is also new initiative in terms of having loans to support returnee migrants in entrepreneurship and different size projects. But it is important to ensure stronger support in terms of loans so that it may not be as costly as a general loan and at the same time helps people to start an initiative in place of origin.
Migration has been the compulsion for many Nepalis. What do you think can be done to ensure safe, regular and orderly migration?
Partnership or bilateral agreements are the actions in the right direction. It is important to strengthen the skills and the role of the migrant resource centers. IOM started programs many years ago to support Nepal. And I think this is a very good way for people to have informed decision. So giving the role of the migrant resource centers to actually work as much as possible in informing migrants is important. We can also have this project of migration as more sustainable one, a successful one to include training or skills training before leaving so that the prospective migrant workers know if they have skills their opportunity for a journey abroad would also be more successful.
According to the government statistics, 76 percent of the migrants are unskilled or low skilled. But there is a way to improve your skills for you to know better choices abroad. There are hundreds of recruiting agencies. I think this is good in terms of making sure that you do not go irregularly but you have agency support for your possible placement abroad.
It is important to make sure that standard operating procedure for the recruitment agency will be followed and there is agreement between the government and the recruiting company. Potential migrants should feel that recruitment agencies are protecting them and giving them opportunity of works. Thus the company and the recruiting agency have an important role to play in global migration.
There is an increasing trend in Nepal to leave for foreign employment. Based on your observation, what are your suggestions to lessen the push factors forcing people to leave the country of origin?
Because labour migration has been happening for many years, I think everybody in a family or a village knows somebody who has actually gone abroad. If it becomes a good migration, then it becomes like if my neighbour has gone I should also go. So the issue is to see whether you know labour migration project is actually a project that allows you to succeed to have a good salary and be able to send money home which is often the case. But you might have a situation where they are working on for very long, the working conditions are really tough and the salary is not what you expected in the first place.
Nepal should think what are the opportunities it can provide to its citizens. IOM is not preventive of migration or does not say you cannot travel or you cannot go. But it is making sure that this project is the one that does not leave you in a more vulnerable situation than if you stay at home.
The geographical landscape of Nepal is also encouraging people to migrate. In remote locations, first migration is internal migration, leaving small villages to the big cities to look for opportunity and when you do not find even a solution here, you may look at getting opportunity abroad. I think there are opportunities. There is a way to look at development that is going to work at the local level as well. But migration is good. It just has to be done safely, so that it is a successful one and you do not get trafficked by the time you get abroad. There is a lot of migration going on even between India and Nepal. That’s natural. Mobility has always existed. So the point is just making sure that these skills you have place you in better position. When you are abroad, you could have a project and some opportunity here. Even the experience you have gained while abroad could be put into practice once you come back. We have Nepali diaspora that left 20 years ago and second generations. May be they will be interested to support development at a community level where they come from.
Do you have any specific suggestions regarding how the government can actually work to overcome these challenges?
The government is looking at the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) that was adopted in December last year in Morocco. When we come to international migration by default there are two countries involved—the country of origin country of destination and often also country of transit because sometimes a journey may be quite a turbulent one. For Nepal there is an interest to have an action plan and strategy. The GCM talks about safe, regular human migration. So the agreement with countries when it comes to migration is precisely in this approach. So you focus on social protections. How do my social rights travel with me? I think there is always some vision on your labour projects today but then you have to think that when they return home they have something more or just the salary. We need to think that their family wife and children back home are well supported.
For Nepal, making the more use of the Diaspora is important. Diaspora is not coming back to stay but they have different ties with Nepal. I met a number of Nepalis living abroad who are very much interested to contribute to specific sector such as agriculture. Agriculture is one of the primary areas of economic revenues. Another important aspect with migration is that migration is transversal. When we look at migration there are many different components. It is important to look across different ministry, federal levels and provinces.
What are the areas that need immediate attention to assimilate migration into development cooperation?
We are supporting to develop migration profile of Nepal in coordination with Ministry of Labor and various government agencies. We will assess what sort of data we have today and what sort of data we need to develop in the future. We are also working with Nepal to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. The joint efforts of the government and civil society will be crucial in this regard. Civil society can play a significant role in controlling human trafficking and supporting the victims. Now, Nepal is taking a number of measures to control human trafficking. They have been very active in implementing the decisions made by the Colombo Process. Nepal was the chair of the Colombo Process and it was engaged with various labor sending destinations to discuss the labor migration issues. The IOM is supporting Nepal in these fields currently. Nepal is also a country prone to natural disasters. We are also working together with Nepal for the disaster risk management.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations also includes migration as its component. What are the efforts made by IOM to help Nepal achieve this goal?
SDG 10.7 talks about safer migration. This is not only important for developing countries, but also for the entire world. I think SDG is very different from the previous MDGs. Decent work, fighting human trafficking are very important. We are engaged in these fields with Nepal government, private sector and civil society. Labor migration issue is very important for Nepal. It sends migrant workers to various countries. Labor migration helps flourishing economy of the host country as well. Migration has also been included under SDG health. It is both about the health of migrant workers and their families. The goal 5 is about the gender and it is also important in labor migration. Climate change is another burning issue. I also had an opportunity to meet the authorities of provinces of Nepal. An issue of natural disaster is important at the local level. When it comes to employment private sectors should also be there. They have to have accountability. I think this is where it comes to the fact of working together. There is a chain of recruitment. When it comes to labor migration, all this chains need to be ethical.
The number 3 is health. Nepal has included migration in its health policy. Again there is also important aspect to see the contribution making sure that migrants are not left out or family of migrants remains the same. These are some of the engagements of Nepal to make migration safer and positive to all.
Number 5 is related with eliminating child trafficking. IOM has been contributing to climate change. I had an opportunity to travel to meet authorities of different provincial level and I saw how the issue of natural disaster and impacts of climate change is becoming bigger than used to be. There is an issue of internal migration or forced migration. I think the government is concerned and is thinking that we need to do something about it. Sometime it is realized late but it is never too late and it is still better to act as soon as possible. This is the area where I have seen engagement.
What could be the IOM’s potential support to the Nepal government in implementing the Global Compact for Migration (GCM)?
What is important is consultation and engaging with different members of the government and parliamentarians as well. We have a work done at the provincial level. But we need to work at municipalities as well. Consultation is our priority. GCM has 23 objectives. Possibly it is not going to be 23 objectives that we want to address today. Let’s look at the priority areas of the government of Nepal. This is where we can work with the government. We will address first issue first where we can work with the government. Technical support is there precisely to look at good practice and to look at what matters have been a challenge elsewhere.
We look for other alternatives. In the global compact there is consultation. I understand there is an interest to work for action plan. Let’s look at it together. The migration will remain a big priority. May be we can look at other aspects in terms of protecting migrants and potential migrants. Again migration will be there. But let us make it one of the various choices people of Nepal have. So people will not feel that I am left with nothing so I need to go abroad. They sometime take very risky route and there can be very challenging job. The solution can be found by working together. Consultation with the country of origin and country of destination is important.