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Tragedy in Afghan capital raises many questions

Kathmandu, June 21, 2016: When Nepal partially lifted the ban on Nepalis from working in Afghanistan in 2011, the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) had defended the decision, arguing that workers would be allowed to work for selected employers including the United Nations, the Nato and Western missions. The ministry had claimed that it was safe to work for the “listed employers” as they had better safety measures in place.

But after the deaths of 14 Nepalis in a Taliban suicide attack in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday morning, questions are again being asked whether the policy makers had been too shortsighted while assessing the security situation of the war-torn country.

Monday’s deadly incident is the biggest tragedy surrounding Nepali migrants since the beheading of 12 Nepali migrants in Iraq in 2004.

According to the Department of Foreign Employment, at least 1,213 Nepalis have acquired work permit from the government to work in Afghanistan in the first 10 months of this fiscal year.

Although exact figures are hard to come by, at least 20,000 Nepalis are said to be working in Afghanistan.

Bharat Raj Paudyal, Nepal’s former ambassador to Pakistan, who during his posting in Islamabad concurrently looked after Afghanistan, said the government may have to reconsider some of its current provisions after making an appropriate assessment of Monday’s tragedy. “It’s high time the government formulated appropriate action plans to ensure adequate safety to workers.”

According to Paudyal, the government had partially lifted the ban on those working in the United Nations, the Nato and Western missions. “But it must not be forgotten that many people are going there using ‘informal channel’,” Paudyal told the Post.

Monday’s suicide attack, however, was not the first one to claim lives of Nepali citizens in Afghanistan. More than 10 Nepalis have been killed in Afghanistan since 2011 in several attacks carried out by the Taliban. Most of the victims were working in UN camps as security guards. In July 2012, the government had to rescue 10 workers after they were taken hostage in a local town of Bagram.

But even after Monday’s attack, Minister for Labour and Employment Deepak Bohara defended the decision to partially lift the ban, claiming that the government was issuing permit to those working with employers providing comparatively better safety nets.

“What happened today was very unfortunate. But we must not forget that many western migrants are also working in the green zones,” Bohara told the Post. He also said that the ministry would take decide the further move after holding consultation with other stakeholders.

“Providing required help to injured workers and to those who want to return from Afghanistan will be our immediate focus for now,” said Bohara.

Despite potential security threats, thousands of Nepalis have been going to war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

In an interview with the Post last year, Birod Basnet, a Nepali working at Dyn Corps International in Afghanistan, had said lucrative pay was the main reason behind growing attraction to job in Afghanistan. According to him, Nepali migrants can earn a minimum of Rs 100,000 a month there.

Another important reason why Nepalis are attracted to work in Afghanistan is the fact that they do not require visa, as they are directly airlifted from Dubai to various bases in Afghanistan.

Work permit issued for Afghanistan

Year       Number

2011-12                823

2012-13                356

2013-14                605

2014-15                1,501

2015-16                1,213

Source : Department of Foreign Employment