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Nepal, one of the countries in the Himalayas, faces the great challenge of organizing the safe return and protection of thousands of Nepalese migrant workers, who were stranded on the Nepal-India border, as well as in other parts of the world.
The country already has a month in confinement: both public spaces and airports have been closed; Transport services were suspended, and the borders with China and India were completely closed. All travel in and out of the country is also restricted, even for Nepalese. This confinement is impacting everyone in a different way. For example, migrant workers and day laborers are among the most vulnerable groups to these restrictions.
In past decades, many Nepalese traveled to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, South Korea and neighboring India: almost a third of the Nepalese economy is made up of remittances that these people send to their families.
The Government began the process of tracing approximately 4.5 million Nepalese currently living abroad who are migrant workers. On the other hand, almost 500 Nepalese migrant workers, stranded on the Nepal-India border, are desperate to return home, having neither shelter nor food. Furthermore, many sleep on the streets, while many others risk their lives by crossing the border illegally.
Migrant laborers stranded at Indo-Nepal border town of Dharchula, UP due to the lockdown amidst Coronavirus outbreak. The Central govt has ordered all the states to seal their borders & to keep a tab on the movement of people#coronavirus # 21daylockdown pic.twitter.com/GB44l16IwT
– Dr.Jitendra Awhad (@Awhadspeaks) March 30, 2020
Migrant day laborers stranded in the Indo-Nepalese border town of Dharchula, Uttarakhand, due to confinement due to an outbreak of coronavirus. The Central Government ordered all states to close their borders and monitor the transit of people.
Nepalese migrant day laborers living in countries like the United Arab Emirates are also at grave risk, as amid the pandemic and confinement, Qatar suddenly deported hundreds of Nepalese without any support. There are also thousands of workers who still live in the Qatari fields without jobs and without adequate shelters.
Chandar Kumar of the Kathmandu Post tweeted:
The human rights advocacy group has accused the Qatari authorities of rounding and expelling dozens of migrant workers after telling them that they were being taken to be tested for Covid-19 in March.
I reported. @amnesty @amnestynepal
– Chandan Kumar Mandal 🐘🐅🦏 (@CK_Mandal) April 16, 2020
Qatar used the coronavirus pandemic as a ploy to expel Nepalese migrant workers, says Amnesty International
More than 400 Nepalese were deported to Nepal in March after local authorities accused them of not respecting government measures, while tens of thousands of Nepalese workers continue to live in withering labor camps in Qatar..
A group of human rights defenders accused the Qatari authorities of grouping and expelling dozens of migrant workers on the grounds that they would be taken away to be tested for COVID-19 in March. Here is my report.
Furthermore, more than 655 Nepalese migrant workers living abroad tested positive for COVID-19. Many migrant day laborers are asking for government support to be able to return home. However, the Nepalese government is neither willing nor prepared to facilitate a safe return.
Middle Eastern migrant workers live in fear of more layoffs and deportations. Journalist Dewan RAI tweeted:
An impending challenge for Nepal govt to bring home Nepali migrant workers from the Middle East. The UAE wants migrant workers to be repatriated and considering quota for workers from countries that refuse to repatriate their citizens @NepaliTimes reports https://t.co/K36bmankrC https://t.co/gJ3RYfASEa
– Dewan RAI (@rdewan) April 14, 2020
ANDUnited Arab Emirates warns to send back workers, including Nepalese.
Migrants in the Gulf countries have found themselves confined to overcrowded, unhealthy dormitories, with no income and unable to return home due to travel restrictions.
Nepali government impending challenge: bring home Nepalese migrant workers from the Middle East. United Arab Emirates demands that migrant workers be repatriated; otherwise, they would charge a fee for workers whose countries refuse to repatriate their citizens. Nepali Times reports.
In an op-ed piece from the Nepalese news site My Republica, sociologists Prakash Bhattarai and Rajendra Senchurey highlighted the potential challenges Nepal will face if large numbers of migrant workers eventually return home as a result of COVID-19:
A growing negative narrative on migration and migrants is identified as another significant impact with the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. (..) It is quite important to create new narratives to challenge these stigmatizing narratives. (..) Post-COVID-19 development policy should also emphasize making use of the knowledge and skills that returnee migrants have brought along.
A growing unfavorable narrative on migration and migrants has been identified, which has generated an additional significant impact since the COVID-19 crisis began. (…) It is of utmost importance to create new narratives that counter those that are stigmatizing. (…) Development policy, after COVID-19, must emphasize the knowledge and skills or abilities with which the migrants have returned.
According to some reports, since the confinement was established, thousands of people (including stranded students and unemployed day laborers) have come to their villages from major cities such as Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan. Many national migrant workers were faced with a great dilemma in the face of the suspension of transport services, since the return to their districts was difficult for them. Thus, many began their journey on foot.
# covid_19 # covid19nepal Read the story of 17 laborers who walked 575 KM from Kathmandu to Rajapur, Bardiya after the lockdown. #Nepal #coronavirus #CivActs #campaign #Bulletin #Work #issues #Nepallockdown pic.twitter.com/aIyNii5hAM
– Civic Action Teams (@CivActs) April 16, 2020
COVID-19 in Nepal: Read the story of the 17 day laborers who traveled 575 km. on foot, from Kathmandu to Rajapur, Bardiya once confinement has been declared.
The Record Nepal, an independent publication from Kathmandu, published an interview with a migrant builder. They asked him why his companions were fleeing from the capital:
Why are migrants fleeing Kathmandu? #lockdownspecial
– The Record (@recordnepal) April 13, 2020
Why are the migrants leaving Kathmandu?
Rohinda Manda, builder of Sarlahi:
Rohinda Manda: Since the confinement began, we have been out of work, and this has happened every week. Although we are staying at home, we have almost no food or money. We have no friends to support us, nor do we have support programs like there are in our town. The situation is uncertain and we have found it very difficult to survive in Kathmandu. That is why we are in need of this journey on foot, even if it is dangerous and difficult. We are a group of ten friends, and we all go to the same place. It will take us at least four days to get home, but little by little we will make our way and we will arrive because we have no other option.
Record Nepal also published another story in which he recounted the death of a man while making the journey on foot to get home.
#NepalFirst s first # COVID19 related death – not because of the virus but because of desperation. Important read @recordnepal. Nepali state has once again failed its most vulnerable citizens! https://t.co/D53YTV3rD7
– Subina Shrestha (@ShresthaSubina) April 17, 2020
A man who returned home walking dies amid despair.
Nepal's first COVID-19-related death is reported, which was not due to the virus but to despair. Record Nepal must-read. Once again, the Nepalese state fails its most vulnerable citizens!
On April 17, 2020, the Supreme Court of Nepal passed an order obliging the Government to repatriate migrant workers living abroad and in a vulnerable situation. He also ordered him to do whatever it takes to provide free transportation to all citizens who go home to ensure their safe return. Also, this order is required to quarantine all persons suspected of having COVID-19 before sending them home.
Nepal Supreme Court tells govt to use its embassies to identify Nepali migrants working abroad to ensure they are getting COVID-19 treatment per WHO rules, w / o discrimination, and to bring back any vulnerable migrant workers: https://t.co/ VsanEhIPUd
– ILAWnetwork (@ILAW_Network) April 17, 2020
Supreme Court asks government to bring back Nepalese migrants stranded in foreign lands.
The Supreme Court of Nepal orders the Government to use its embassies to identify all Nepalese migrants working abroad. All this in order to give them adequate treatment against COVID-19, according to WHO guidelines without being discriminated against. They should also bring home any migrant worker who is in a vulnerable situation.
It is too soon to know how efficiently the Government will act, once it carries out these orders, while the country is in confinement.
According to statistics, since January 24, when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed, Nepal has only confirmed 30 cases and, as of April 19, two cases recovered. The list includes 13 people who recently returned from the UK and parts of Europe; on the other hand, they also include 12 cases of Indians who traveled to Nepal to attend a religious act. Although the number of cases in Nepal is relatively low, an outbreak is still feared, as insufficient screening has been done.
While the Nepalese government is specifically targeting the most immediate health needs, it should also address the problems of vulnerable citizens to save the country from a socio-economic crisis. The Government should also be designing, with the help of experts, long-term strategies to be able to lift the current confinement of the country.