Nepalis in the Middle East fear starvation as government delays repatriation

Published On: September 10, 2020 09:55 AM NPT By: RUDRA KHADKA

KATHMANDU, Sept 10: Surya Majhi from Ramechap lost his job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia two months ago. After the coronavirus pandemic, the welding company he was working for halted its productions. The company said there is no demand for its products in the market. Majhi worries about food. The company-provided apartment has to be vacated at the earliest. He has nowhere else to go. 

“I have been trying to return home,” he told Republica. “I have been to the embassy and travel agencies multiple times in the last two months to get a ticket, but nothing has worked so far.” He fears that the company will soon kick him out from the apartment, and has run out of money. 

Rihan Manshoor from Rautahat has a similar story. He has been trying to get a ticket to come home for over a month now. He lost his job in Riyadh a month ago. “I used to earn around 40,000 rupees a month, but my savings will soon run out if I can’t return home,” said Manshoor. 

Pranaya Limbu from Panchthar is stuck in Malaysia. He has been talking to the embassy, Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on a daily basis for the last two weeks, but nothing has materialized. 

Similarly, Arbind Sah of Parsa used to work at a restaurant in Dubai. He lost his job a month ago. Sah says he will die of starvation if the government does not help him come home soon. 

Thousands of Nepalis have been stuck in the Middle East, Malaysia and other popular labor destination countries. They have lost their jobs, and are running out of money. The government has instituted a rule to not to repatriate more than 800 Nepalis per day from abroad. Before the international flights were suspended in March, around 1,500 Nepalis were returning home every day. 

The government does not have accurate information about the number of people who have lost their jobs abroad. The Non-Resident Nepalis Association (NRNA) has estimated that around one million Nepalis will return home. Almost 60,000 Nepalis have returned since the government started chartered flights from the Middle East and other labor destination countries.  

Labor permits of some of the Nepali workers have expired. They have been forced to stay illegally due to the lack of timely repartition by the government. The workers have to pay a fine for such a stay. Experts say the countries will not reconsider fines on Nepali workers as they view delays in evacuation flights as due to Nepal’s own internal issues. 

Bharat Mani Pandey, spokesperson at the Ministry of Labor, says that of the total number of Nepalis that have returned home, 43,000 were on labor permits. He said that the government is working to bring back the stranded workers home. 

Nepalis have started protesting in front of Nepali embassies in the respective countries. Stranded Nepali workers protested in front of Nepali embassy in Riyadh on Tuesday. Mahendra Prasad Singh Rajput, Nepali ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, said that the only way to solve the issue is to increase the frequency of the flights. “If we can have five daily flights each from Riyadh and Dammam, we can sort out the issue,” said Rajput.  

Rajput also said that 25,000 Nepalis have registered to return home from Saudi Arabia. “Only 8,000 have been able to go home, and it is natural to have protests if people are not able to return for months.” So far 52 Nepalis have died and 4116 Nepalis have been infected by coronavirus in Saudi Arabia. 

Similarly, around 10,000 Nepalis are waiting to return home from Qatar. 

To make the matters worse, the government has doubled the ticket prices. The Supreme Court, on Ashad 1, had ordered the government to repatriate Nepalis, who do not have the money, for free. The government has simply ignored the SC’s order. 

According to the office of the Foreign Employment Department, five million Nepalis have received labor permits, and almost 90% of them are in the Middle East and Malaysia. 

20,000 Nepalis want to return from Malaysia 

According to NRNA Malaysia’s president Hari Bhattarai, 20,000 Nepalis are waiting to be repatriated from Malaysia after losing their jobs. Bhattarai said that although the situation is under control in Malaysia, the companies will take time to revive. He said that two thousand Nepalis who had tickets to come home have been forced to wait indefinitely. 

The story first appeared in Nagarik Daily on September 10, 2020. 

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