Monday, 24 January, 2022

Nepali Migrants Languish In Luxembourg

Nepali Migrants Languish In Luxembourg

Namrata Sharma

In the last issue of INSIGHT I had given statistical data related to labour migration of Nepali people as a prelude to a human trafficking story I was about to break after two years of continuous fact-checking. This week I am writing here about an exposé of labour exploitation of Nepali people in one of the richest countries on earth - Luxembourg. According to the Hope for Justice, modern slavery is where one person controls another by exploiting vulnerability. It is often linked with human trafficking, where a person is forced into a service against their will – usually forced work or prostitution. The control can be physical, financial or psychological.

According to the same organisation website, 40.3 million people are in forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced marriage worldwide. Around $150 billion is made each year from forced labour, that’s over $4,750 a second. Some Nepali workers working in Nepali restaurants could very well fall under this definition and data of modern slaves. The police in Luxembourg are now investigating if Nepali workers there are exploited as such.

Labour exploitation
In 2019, I visited Luxembourg and was struck by the natural beauty and the developed infrastructure there. I had learned that there were many Nepali restaurants running successfully there. I visited a few and interviewed their Nepali owners, and met with employees. I also met government officials and visited police departments. However, it was not easy to get information. After the initial chit-chat, the restaurant workers suddenly were silent when asked about their working conditions because of intimidation.

I soon found out that the reason was that many of them are victims of labour exploitation and are not fully aware of their rights in Europe because of lack of education and language skills. They trusted the employer who was often a relative or friend from back home. It was in Luxembourg, the country where the Court of Justice of the European Union is situated, that migrant workers were facing some of the worst violations of their human rights at the hands of fellow Nepalis. The Nepalis all said they were happy. But behind this veneer of happiness, I had a nagging feeling that it was all too good to be true. So I kept following the story for two years and have now found evidence which the police there are now following.

After some digging, I found a similar story to what I had uncovered in Helsinki earlier where Nepali workers were exploited by a Nepali restaurant owner. The Finnish government has now taken action and supported the victims. Like in Finland, some migrants who had entered Luxembourg legally were being abused and denied basic human rights, including the right to decent working hours and salary, right to safe housing and good food and the right to live with dignity. 

I continued my interaction with Nepali workers in Luxembourg and one in Nepal who had fled from his vicious employer. They were both sent working visa by the same man who was related to them and was also from the same place, Baglung. He made a verbal agreement with them that they would work for free for a maximum of 16 months for helping them get their work visa. However, after reaching there they were both exploited and deprived of their due salaries and were also beaten by their boss with kitchen utensils. Both have pictures of abuse marks all over their bodies, including their heads, faces and backs. This is physical, mental and labour exploitation.

Their employer has all the legal paperwork for their contracts and bank accounts. Still, they were exploited. It is now up to the authorities there to find out how such violations could occur in a country which has such strict safeguards. It is also the responsibility of Nepal government to make sure Nepali workers abroad do not face such exploitations. A 2020 report by Nepal's Ministry of Labour indicates that more than a quarter of the country's gross domestic product is due to remittances from abroad. Over $8 billion was sent back home by exiled Nepalis in each of 2018 and 2019.The question here is how much of this could be due to Nepali workers being exploited abroad?

Slavery has been embedded in Nepali culture since centuries in different forms of bonded labour, social, traditional, cultural and religious forms. It is now illegal, and all bonded labour and sexual and labour exploitations, including prostitution, are illegal and banned in Nepal. However, habits die hard especially where poverty is rampant. Now, exploitation in the form of modern slavery outside Nepal seems to go unchecked. Although laws may prevent slavery, modern slavery is still around. The story of the Nepali workers in Luxembourg shows that people can be trapped while serving food, making clothes for us, picking our vegetables and fruits, working in factories or houses as cooks and cleaners.

On the outside, the workers in Luxembourg were in a safe haven as they were leading normal lives and had regular jobs, but on the inside they were living in hell, as they were regularly beaten, threatened and exploited. One of the victims I talked with had his passport confiscated during his stay there. He was finally able to leave Luxembourg when his father died and he got a common relative from Nepal to send him an air ticket. The common relative put family pressure on the employer to release his passport. These Nepalis were suffering injustice only because they wanted to escape poverty and thought that they could lead better lives for themselves and their families. I have been able to expose this injustice with the help of the Money Trail Project, Journalism Fund EU, and Finance Uncovered and journalist Luc Caregari of of Luxembourg.

(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights activist. namrata1964@yahoo.comTwitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)