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Kabul incident a grim reminder

At least 10,000 Nepali migrants have died on foreign soil since 2000, over 5,000 in the last five years

Kathmandu, June 24, 2016: A pall of gloom descended on Tribhuvan International Airport on Wednesday, as families and friends of those killed in Kabul suicide attack anxiously waited for the bodies to arrive.

Monday’s suicide attack that killed 13 Nepalis working as security guards at the Canadian Embassy in the Afghan capital is a grim reminder of the danger innocent Nepali workers have been facing on foreign soil.

According to accumulated data acquired by the Post from various Nepali missions of the labour destination countries, at least 10,000 Nepali migrant workers have died while working abroad. More than 8,000 of these deaths were recorded in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar–the three largest work destinations of Nepali migrants.

Complied data acquired by the Post show that at least 3,800 Nepali migrants have died in Saudi Arabia, 3,000 in Malaysia and 1,600 in Qatar in the last 16 years. Similarly, more than 1,500 Nepali workers have died in other smaller work destinations, including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, South Korea and Oman.

Although the embassies could not provide cause-wise breakdown of all the deaths, most of the Nepalis are believed to have succumbed to heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest, traffic accident and other ailments. In some cases, suicides were also reported.

More than half of the total death cases occurred in the last five years–the period when around 500,000 Nepalis left the country in search of employment.

It is important to note that the exact death toll might be much higher, as most of the embassies started keeping the record of individual death cases only about five years ago.

Foreign employment experts and policy makers say the number of casualties of Nepali workers on foreign soil could rise in coming years, as both Nepal and the host countries have been doing precious little to ensure the migrant workers’ safety and their physical and mental well-being.

They say the current scenario is unlikely to change unless labour sending and receiving governments take concrete steps to ensuring proper working and living conditions for workers.

Ganesh Gurung, a foreign employment expert, says safety and security of workers is the liability of both the sending and receiving countries.

“Most of the deaths in the past could have been avoided by providing better orientation, training and health facilities to the workers,” he says. “The government should explore better work destinations instead of allowing Nepalis to go to work in risk zones.”

Rishi Adhikari, Nepal’s former ambassador to Malaysia, says both the sending and receiving countries should be equally blamed for the loss of lives and ill treatment of the workers.

In an interview with the Post last year, Adhikari had said Nepali migrants in Malaysia “are forced to work under enormous pressure, oftentimes without basic facilities like health, food and accommodation”.

Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, had told the Post in an interview that the respective governments are to blame for the deaths of migrant workers in the Gulf countries.

“Employers in the Gulf countries like Qatar were spending very little in providing basic facilities like food, water, decent accommodation facilities and regular health care to the migrants” he said. “Not many employers in the Gulf countries like Qatar are providing basic facilities including health care and decent living conditions.”


Govt imposes ban on working in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria
The government has imposed ban on foreign employment in Afghanistan, Syria and Libya for Nepali nationals. A Cabinet meeting on Thursday took the decision in the wake Monday’s terrorist attack in the Afghanistan capital Kabul that killed 15 people, including 13 Nepali security guards, according to Minister for Information and Communications Sher Dhan Rai. The three war-ravaged countries have been lucrative destinations for Nepalis seeking foreign employment and thousands of them have reached there both through legal and illegal channels. The decision will remain effective until further notice, said an official, adding that the government will conduct a detailed risk assessment of Afghanistan and decide later whether to lift the restriction. The Cabinet also decided to make a request to the Afghan government through the Foreign Ministry to ensure safety of the Nepali nationals working there. The government decided to provide Rs1 million each to the families of those killed in the Kabul attack and bear the treatment costs of the injured receiving care at a hospital in the Indian capital New Delhi.
By Roshan Sedhai