In this column INSIGHT, one of the regular issues that has been addressed is related to the plight of the migrant workers of Nepal. Right from the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, it is evident that the people who work the hardest, earn the least but cumulatively earn and send the largest foreign money remittance to Nepal are still the Nepali migrant workers.
During the pandemic, we saw long queues of migrant workers lining up to get in and out of their countries of origin and residence. Although human compassion of providing food was blown up by governments, there have been several stories carried by media which show the various atrocities and hardships the migrant workers have had to face during this pandemic just to keep their families safe, and have enough to eat. Many have not had time to even think of proper protection from the coronavirus. In a family where there is less than a few dollars income a day, who can afford to buy masks and sanitisers?
Mobility The mobility of the people from one place to another in search of better opportunities has been the trend for humans since the beginning of the world. While initially it may have been wandering around in a nomadic manner, the defining character of our times is international mobility in search of work, education and better lives. With the increase of international mobility, there has also been different ways in which educated and wealthier individuals trap vulnerable humans into different forms of labour exploitation. Anyone who is made to work in a different place other than their home country without a fair salary, housing, food and health services are victims of human trafficking, even if they are not subject to physical, verbal, mental and sexual violence.
According to the Nepal Labour Migration Report 2020, issued by the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security’s (MOLESS), the Department of Foreign Employment (DOFE) has issued over 4 million labour approvals to Nepali workers. The report says labour migration from Nepal is characterised by time-bound employment contracts, concentrated in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Malaysia. The subsequent remittances have been equivalent to over a quarter of the GDP in recent years, with the latest figure of 8.79 billion USD in 2018/19, making it a significant source of foreign exchange earnings. According to UN DESA 2019, over 272 million individuals, around 3.5 per cent of the global population, are estimated to be living outside their countries of birth; and, according to ILO 2018 report, it is estimated that 63 per cent of this population move for employment opportunities.
In this column, many issues of how labour migration has their dark sides have been covered. There are malpractices right from the recruitment and employment of migrant workers. While people are encouraged with false hopes of the pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow, they often get misled and land up in consequences and abuses they might never have had thought of. Therefore, it is now high time that Nepal government started creating employment opportunities within Nepal so that people do not have to go abroad to earn out of compulsion. While the government claims that a quarter of Nepal’s GDP is because of migrant workers, due attention on how this percentage is reached has not been given.
There has to be emphasis on giving opportunities for Nepali migrant workers to migrate with their choice and full knowledge on what they may get into and how to protect themselves from ill fate rather than having to go for work out of sheer necessity. According to the same Labour migration report, labour migration from Nepal is pre-dominantly male, with more than eighty per cent of the total labour migrant population in 2017/18 and 2018/19 between the ages of 18 and 35. The share of workers taking up low-skilled work is high at 59 per cent (2018/19) and 64 per cent (2017/18). The volume of financial remittance has significantly increased in the recent past, from 2.54 billion USD in 2010/11 to 8.79 billion USD in 2018/19.
A large number of the Nepalis migrate to India and an equal number of Indians migrate to Nepal for employment opportunities because of the open border as the work permit to work in each other’s country is not required. Likewise, as migration to foreign countries has increased, there are a regular stream of Nepali people going to the western countries, mainly the European countries, for work. Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and other developed nations are beckoning lights for migrant workers from Nepal also.
Safety Most of this remittance that trickles into Nepal is at a cost of struggle and labour exploitation of the migrant workers. Many a times they are victims of human trafficking even without their knowing it. Some get into severe problems and may not be able to escape, while others somehow are able to run away from torture but never have the knowhow to complain against the crime that is committed against them.
The number of women who migrate for labour is also increasing steadily in the past decade. As a result, Nepal government has put in place stringent laws to stop women who are unmarried and are under 40 to leave the country without permission and accompanying by their guardians! The purpose of this law, as the government claims, is to protect the Nepali women from being trafficked. But there are stories of several Nepali men and women both being trafficked into foreign countries and exploited almost every day. Therefore, rather than curbing the human rights of Nepali women’s freedom to mobility, the government needs to start ensuring safety of all Nepali labour migrants.
(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights activist. email@example.com Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)