The Nepalis in Myanmar were brought home on June 5, 2020, in the first phase of evacuation.
KATHMANDU, July 2: Manish Khadka decided to shut down his screen printing business that he had been running in Patan as he was not certain when he would be able to return home from Indonesia. He had left for Indonesia on March 6 for a short trip but was left stranded for more than three months due to abrupt suspension of international flights to and from Nepal.
The three-week plan stretched to three months. Khadka along with 10 other fellow Nepalis were finally able to return home by a Himalaya Airlines flight on March 26. “I did not expect it to be this lengthy. When the government decided to evacuate stranded Nepalis, the airfare turned me off,” he said. “I was expecting the government to take initiative and help Nepali nationals stranded abroad. But we were asked to pay double the amount of regular fare.”
Khadka and his friends were encouraged when the Nepal government announced to evacuate Nepali nationals stranded abroad. But they were soon disappointed as the airfare was rather too expensive for people who were already financially vulnerable.
Khadka had booked a two-way ticket when he departed from Nepal. He was hardly left with any money to pay for the new ticket after a three-month stay in Indonesia. After multiple attempts, they were connected to the airline's representative and the Embassy of Nepal in Malaysia. “Although they offered to help us return home, there was a financial challenge before me as I had to manage money to buy a ticket,” he lamented.
The government tried to convince them about the ticket price saying that it was supposed to cover operational costs and also the expenses of two-way travel. But as the airfare drew criticisms from various quarters, the government was forced to revise the airfare twice.
Pramod Kattel, 24, is currently waiting to fly back home from Dubai. His contract expired three months ago when the company he was working with faced an economic crisis as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the company decided not to renew the contract. He is forced to live in Dubai with the support from his friends as he does not have work to support his living there.
“I wanted to return right after my company ceased its operation. I was left stranded in Dubai for months due to worldwide travel restrictions enforced to contain the spread of the COVID-19,” he mentioned. “As a breadwinner of the family, I have many responsibilities. But I am financially hit-hard at the moment as I lost jobs three months ago.”
Kattel complained that the government’s decision to bring home only a few thousand migrant workers was impractical. “The government has named this an evacuation operation. But the ticket price is highly expensive.”
Kattel is not the only one who wants to return back to Nepal. Daya Giri has also filled up the form at the Embassy of Nepal in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for evacuation. She has been looking for ways to return home since two months ago after her employer suddenly terminated her from work due to COVID-19.
Although her visa is still valid, she is currently left jobless. She has been waiting for the embassy to arrange her an evacuation flight to Nepal. “I am told that the embassy will call for bookings of tickets to return home. I am waiting to hear from Nepali Embassy about the evacuation flight.”
Giri also has a sister working in Dubai. She has been financially supporting her since she lost her job. “But it is hard to survive without earning because I need to pay rent and buy food to survive,” she added. She is in a dilemma whether to return home or try to find another job. “I have heard a lot about mismanaged quarantine facilities in Nepal. I am also not in position to pay for a hotel quarantine for 14 days,” she further said.
Meanwhile, a company in Malaysia terminated the contract of 93 Nepalis as the company decided to lay off 35 percent of its employees. One of them is Madhu Suman Karki, who has completed his 11th day in a local quarantine in Nepal. “I worked in a good company with lucrative income. They even sent us home booking tickets,” said Karki,43.
Karki along with other Nepalis came home on a Nepal Airlines flight on June 20. “There are many Nepalis who want to come back to Nepal. But they are not fortunate enough to be sent home by their employer like us,” he shared. “Their companies have refused to pay the airfare that is almost double the regular price. They are forced to suffer a lot as the government has not shown willingness to assist them financially.”
Although foreigners were repatriated in special charter flights within a few weeks of the enforcement of lockdown in Nepal, the government in Nepal took a decision to evacuate Nepalis stranded abroad almost three month after the lockdown was enforced. According to the Immigration Office at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), a total of 14,051 foreigners were repatriated to their respective countries from Nepal as of Wednesday.
The evacuation of Nepalis started on June 5 when three flights from Myanmar and the UAE brought Nepalis back home. Dozens of international flights were operated continuously after June 11 to bring Nepalis home. According to the Immigration Office at TIA, a total of 14,178 Nepalis have arrived home through the evacuation flights as of Wednesday.
Two Nepal-based international airlines namely, Nepal Airlines Corporation and Himalaya Airlines and foreign international airlines like Jazeera Airlines, Qatar Airways, SalamAir, Malaysia Airlines, among others are continuously conducting repatriation flights for vulnerable Nepalis stranded abroad.
An estimated 4.5 million Nepalis are working abroad, mainly in gulf countries. There are fears that a large number of them could lose their jobs if the lockdown enforced to contain the spread of COVID-19 is prolonged further.