Migrants abroad left in lurch

Pic: Kantipur

Hom Karki in Kantipur, 29 July

The Nepal Government banned labour permits aiming to block women from going abroad as domestic workers without actually meeting any women in that role. Though members of the International Relations and Labour Committee of Parliament visited Gulf countries, they only met some of the women at Nepal's embassies.

The government stopped issuing work permits for domestic workers on the committee’s recommendation, which impacted hundreds of thousands of men and women already working as domestic help in the Gulf.

About 139,000 domestic workers abroad have not returned to Nepal in the past 2.5 years, because they are afraid of losing their livelihoods. Those who have returned have not been able to go back because of the ban. They have asked the committee to revise the decision. The National Human Rights Commission has also said the decision is not fair.

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The seven-member parliamentary committee, led by Prabhu Sah, visited Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE in March 2017. On 2 April, it directed the government to ban domestic workers going to Gulf countries. Ashok Kumar Mandal, Premkishor Shah Teli, Binod Shrestha, Radhadevi Timilsina, Rajya Lakshmi Shrestha and Lalit Kumar Shrestha were the other members of the Committee. They reached Saudi Arabia on 18 March, and met 24 women migrant workers who had taken refuge at the embassy in Riyadh after being taken there from Kuwait.

The committee met Saudi Arabia’s Labour Minister Ali Bin Naseer Ghafis, and held discussions with the Nepali community in Riyadh and Dammam. According to the report, the discussions were attended by Nepali businesspersons in Saudi Arabia and agents of recruitment companies.

Nepalis working as farm hands, cooks and drivers — classified as domestic workers — were not invited to the discussions. “I have been working in Saudi Arabian farms for the past 15 years. I earn 1,500 riyal (almost Rs15,000) a month,” Umesh Raya from Rautahat says. “Everything is going good for me, except that if I go back home on holidays, I cannot come back here. What did the parliamentarians see when they were here? Who did they meet and how did they come to that decision?”

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The committee went to Kuwait after four days, and did not meet any domestic workers there, either. The government issued 19,564 permits for domestic workers in Kuwait, while the committee met 25 women who were about to be deported back to Nepal.

“I have been working as a security guard for the past eight years. On paper, that counts as a domestic worker, too. We are not able to leave this job and go back home,” says Ramesh Gurung of Nawalparasi. “The committee made its decision based on the accounts of people abused and mistreated who it met at the embassy. It assumed that everyone in Kuwait is going through the same plight, and this has created hassles for us.”

The committee members then headed to Qatar, where they visited the Qatar Maid Service, a company run by a Nepali that employs mostly Nepali women workers. There, the women told the committee that they were paid less than Filipinas who did the same work.

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More men than women work as domestic help in Qatar, most of them in camel racing. But the committee did not meet any Nepalis working with camels. “It’s a little difficult to work in camel races,” says Umesh Karki, who has been working in the Sahaniya region for the past 17 years. “My boss is good. I earn Rs40,000 every month, and my food is paid for. But why was the labour permit banned? My wife and children keep calling me back home. But I cannot leave everything behind and go home.”

In UAE, the parliamentarians were told that Nepali workers had started coming to the country through legal channels, and the committee was advised to let this continue. There are 130 legal domestic workers in UAE, and they face no problems since the laws there are designed to protect the rights of home workers.

There is one Nepali couple who both work for an Emirati employer. “I drive for my boss while my wife is a domestic worker,” says Raju Bhattarai of Gulmi. “We have not been able to return home.”

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