Having endured hardships, migrant worker returnees help others avoid suffering the same fate
Every day, Kathmandu airport offers a fascinating study in the sociology of migration. At the departure area throng eager migrant workers with red tika on their foreheads and garlands, bidding tearful goodbye to family members. At the other end of the terminal are the much awaited reunions as migrant workers return (picture right) with their earnings.
Among the returnees are those who are back for good with skills and aspirations to make a living back home in Nepal. Having gone through hardships, some returnees want to help others like them and promote safe outmigration.
By deploying returnee volunteers projects like Safer Migration (SaMi) try to make migrants ready to go abroad aware of what to expect. Here in Makwanpur, where 10 per cent of all migrants are female (compared to 3.5 % nationwide) women returnees are playing an active role in facilitating safe migration.
The Aprabasi Mahila Sewa Kendra (AMSK), for example, is a network of returnee migrants (mostly from Kuwait) who volunteer to warn those aspiring to go abroad about the pitfalls, from travelling illegally through India to what to expect in the Gulf.
All pics: Upasana Khadka
Aprabasi Mahila Sewa Kendra during one of their meetings.
“While we are committed to the cause, we are engaged in other full time jobs and this is a voluntary effort that our Predatory agents scout potential migrants and lure them with stories about the foreign dream. Fishing for potential migrants from the same pool is a repeated transaction and cheating can come with a high reputational cost as agents and their families live in the same community where agents and migrant households coexist.
In Siraha, the fifth highest migrant-sending district, a hairdresser, a shopkeeper and two farmers have all worked as recruiters. One of them, Binod, said: “I have a problem in my eye that required me to frequent Kathmandu for check-ups, so I started helping the locals by delivering passports and paperwork or being their travel companion and before I knew it, I started getting paid for it.”
One of the migrants Binod cheated, Sovit, is still facing mental and financial stress for what he went through on his failed trip to Qatar. "Social clout can influence how agents respond when the cheated confront them," said Sovit, who is from the Musahar community here. After three months in Qatar, Sovit returned and was able to get back Rs 40,000 from the 75,000 he had paid Binod after community mediation. Most other recruiters get away, like Ramesh who absconded with a lump sum collected from five aspirants.
The contribution made by organisations like AMSK need to be scaled up in a similar manner to the work of Nepal’s Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) who, after basic training, have become an integral part of Nepal’s rural health system. Returnee migrants can also be trained to become an important part of the effort to deal with exploitation by agents, and orienting migrants to the rules, expectations and resources while abroad.
Another key barrier in making migration safe, according to returning women domestic workers, is language. Returnees agree that their transition would have been much smoother had they learnt Arabic before they went. But while the lanes of Bag Bazar are filled with Korean and English classes, there are no institutes for Arabic.
Bishnu Gurung (pictured right) spent two years in Kuwait and plans to re-migrate, recalls how she started jotting down Arabic words in her notebook. “The first was the word for kitchen, and then onion. My employer would point at things and show me what they are called, Gurung said, “I started memorising all the words, and was lucky because I had a patient employer, and also because I could write.”
Tulsi Lama (pictured below) was not so lucky in Kuwait where she spent more than 4 years in four different jobs. “When my first employer asked me to bring something, I often made mistakes, my memory of the first few months of work abroad is of confusion.”
As many of the returnees are fluent in Arabic, training in pedagogy could allow them to impart language skills to women waiting to go abroad. The language is not as necessary for, say, construction workers, but is a must for domestic helpers who have to live with the families they work for.
However, most migrant workers are in rush to get their travel documents ready before they leave and are not in the frame of mind to learn a foreign language. Besides, given the government ban on outmigration of young women to ensure their safety, many returnees instead travel through illegal channels.
Pre-departure training is mandatory but often times they are just checked boxes where prospective migrants are taught to report to authorities that they have taken the required training. Free visa and ticket policy is in place, but most migrants end up paying recruiters exorbitant fees.
Providing the right incentives will be key to ensure that outgoing workers are adequately prepared and returnees can play a prominent role in facilitating this.
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