Monday, February 04, 2008

Death of Nepali workers abroad

Consider this: The gruesome murder of twelve Nepalis bound to Iraq on August 19, 2004 triggered spontaneous protests in Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal. The rioters attacked the offices of Qatar Airways, Gulf Air, hundred of manpower agencies, mosques and Kantipur Complex, the office of largest media house in Nepal.

We have a tendency to forget public events very soon. It's hardly been three and a half years but the massacre of a dozen innocent Nepali youths (who were duped by wily human traffickers) and its aftermath (read mayhem in Kathmandu and Jhapa) is fast fading from our public memory.

Everyday more than seven hundred Nepali workers go abroad. But, the hitherto unnoticed and unacknowledged fact is that each day also brings in average two dead bodies of Nepali workers.

January 30: I'm at the airport waiting for one corpse to arrive. The Gulf Air flight from Baharain has just landed. Nepali workers carrying VCDs, TV arrive in droves, their Nepali replete with Arabic words (one uttered Khalliballi, Arabic word for who cares). As they venture out of the Tribhuvan International Airport (it's drizzling outside), they are greeted by cab drivers, hotel agents who are only eager to grab a share of their hard-earned Riyals and Dirhams. These middlemen grab the belongings forcing the home bound workers to follow their footsteps: you become stranger in your own country. This unhealthy and shameful 'marketing' is an eyesore to the sole international airport of Nepal.

Amid these homecoming workers appears a coffin. Mani Kumar Subba is inscribed in English and Arabic apparently to identify the coffin.

On the midnight of September 29, Karuna Subba, a resident of Chandragadhi, Jhapa in eastern lowland of Nepal received a call from Saudi Arabia. Her husband Mani Kumar Subba was on the line. He informed his wife that they were having a birthday party of one of their friends. A jovial Mani asked his wife to come to Kathmandu on October 15 to receive him.

"Now on I would be entitled for vacation every year," he shared the good news. He also mentioned that he had a gift (a piano) for his daughter Chandani.

"What else should I bring," he said as if he was boarding a flight the next day.

"No need to bring gifts from there, we can buy in Kathmandu," replied Karuna.

She did not know that that would be her last conversation with her husband.

Karuna did not have any inkling about what was in store for her. Her phone rang at 11 pm the next day. It was not her husband's voice. The caller who identified himself as Manik Kumar's friend asked for her fax number in Nepal. When she enquired about her husband, the caller told her that he had gone to a remote area bordering Kuwait in course of his duty.

Karuna grew anxious. Later, she was informed that her husband was found dead in a swimming pool. She thinks something fishy must have happened. "How come a person partying the previous day can be found dead in the swimming pool the next day?" she asked me, as if I had the right answer (But I didn't have).

It took four agonizing months for the corpse to arrive.

Karuna made rounds of man power agency (Moondrops Overseas), Labor Department and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) to arrange for the arrival of her husband's dead body. In this effort, she spent forty thousand rupees (Approx 650 US dollars). According to her, late Mani Kumar was the sole breadwinner of the joint family of eight (including college going son and daughter). Her mother-in-law is undergoing dialysis in Siliguri, West Bengal, India (another tragic blow to an already devastated family). Both of her kidneys have been shot and the transplant costs 1 hundred thousand rupees.

MoFA recieved twenty-two applications for the shipment of Nepali workers' dead bodies from abroad in the month of Poush (Dec 16-Jan 17). The consular and legal section of the Ministry (dubbed corpse section) is badly understaffed. So are the Nepali missions abroad. Most of the embassies are run by three to five staff, which is not sufficient given the massive volume of work trust upon them.

What needs to be done?

1.A permanent mechanism in conjunction with MoFA, Labor Department and manpower agency should be formed to look after among others the death of Nepali workers. The government must ensure speedy arrival of the dead bodies of the workers. This mechanism should also inspect the working and living conditions of Nepali abroad.
2.The illegal means (advertisements without the verification of the company, sending to Iraq while advertising for Kuwait etc) by which the manpower agencies are hiring workers must be stopped and the manpower agencies must be brought under close scrutiny. The orientation training must be mandatory for every workers going abroad.

Related Links: Chicago Tribune reporter Cam Simpson's investigative series on how the twelve Nepali workers (killed by a terrorist group) ended up in Iraq.
David Phinney, a Washington based journalist's in-depth piece titled Asia's Poor Build US Bases in Iraq.
My post on a Malaysia bound worker.
My story on OhmyNews about Nepali women's exploitation in Saudi Arabia


Anonymous said...

Dear Deepak Jee,

Thanks for another relevant piece. You have picked up a right subject after "Kidney Mafias." I guess that some of the things you have written regarding illegal kidney trade is ultimately proved true. Kudos to you for honest journalistic practice.

Regarding present write-up, I concur with you on many of the issues. As you have mentioned, it is extremely necessary now that a permanent mechanism be created in Nepal. GON and MoFA has already recognized international labour Market for Nepalis. Many manpower agencies are also operating legally. If they want to provide sanctity to this new field of business, they need to ensure safety and security to Nepalis working abroad. Similarly, in cases like Mani Kumar Subba, some kind of "Insurance" can definitely help the family.

This is very urgent. With increasing number of Nepalis outside, reports of casualties are likely to increase. Government and MoFA officials should do something instead of complaining fund crunch or shortage of officials. In close consultations with Manpower agencies, they need to carve out a financial mechanism to support such offices. Government can levy some amount like 2-5 thousands per person as a fee for a permanent fund to help Nepalis/or their families meeting such tragedies.

Manpower agencies themselves may shell out some part of their earnings for "workers in distress." If they keep on pocketing entire earning without any care to the people who are helping them, then they would appear too selfish. Moreover, duping innocent Nepalis must be stopped by Manpower agencies. Because of their dealings, people are using derogative words like "human traffickers" for them.


basanta said...

Thank you Deepakjee for such a good analysis of a very important subject. I hope such articles can compel our establishment to do something to such people.