Nepali boat people

Janak Raj Sapkota in Kantipur, 20 May

A harrowing story of how Nepalis are paying a network of international traffickers to make arduous and expensive journeys through the Caribbean has just emerged as survivors returned to Nepal from Cuba.

Sumitra Kunwar from Bhaktapur was with two other Nepali women who paid human traffickers more than Rs 4 million, but she died of hunger and dehydration during the last leg of their perilous bid to get to the United States last year. Her decomposing body was thrown overboard by other passengers in a boat that ran adrift en route from Port au Prince to Florida.

Two other Nepali women were among those rescued by a Coast Guard vessel and sent back to Nepal from Havana. The two, who did not want to be identified, said they met Sumitra at a hotel in New Delhi who told them she knew an agent who could get them to the US for Rs 2 million each. The agent claimed to run a film company KP Films that was a cover for human trafficking. This company was in turn involved with Haiti Films, another dubious company run by Haitian national Charles Elesto who is involved in trafficking people into the US by boat through Port au Prince.

Haiti Films sent invitations for the three women to work as actresses and production mangers in Haiti, in its new film Sanskar, supposedly a joint venture with KP Films. After receiving invitation letters, they all left New Delhi for Haiti in January 2017 via Moscow, Bogota and the Dominican Republic. In Port au Prince, they were kept in a congested apartment where five other Nepalis were already waiting for months to travel on to the US.

Elesto kept promising them that they would “soon” be taken to the US. Eventually, after months of uncertainty and hopelessness, they were put on a boat with 12 other migrants from various countries. They were told they would get to the Bahamas in seven hours, and another person would take them on to the Florida coast. But soon, the boat started drifting in the high seas. The passengers ate up all the food in just two days, and soon they were also out of water.


Sumitra suffered from sea sickness, and began to vomit. On the 13th day, desperately thirsty, she drank salt water from the sea and soon died. Other travelers did not want to keep Sumitra’s body on board, fearing that it would decompose. The two other Nepali women watched as her body was tossed overboard.

On the 18th day, the boat was rescued by the Coast Guard and taken to the Bahamas from where the US Embassy in Washington had them taken to Havana for their flights back to Nepal. An embassy staffer said they did not want to return home since they had lost so much money, so they tried to hide in Cuba. They were arrested and detained for three weeks by Cuban immigration. The women said they were not trying to hide, but missed their flight.

The women said they spent more than Rs 6.5 million during their year-long ordeal, of which Rs 4 million was paid to the traffickers.

  • Most read