Another plane-load of Nepalis arrives in the Qatar capital and the migrant workers walk across the tarmac in 42-degree heat.
For many of them it is their first time on a plane and first trip abroad. But even before the culture shock hits them it is the shock of the heat and the blinding white light of the desert.
Such is the desperation of Nepalis that despite being ruthlessly cheated by loan sharks back home, exploited by recruiters and then paid less than promised by Qatari employers they stay on to send their meager earnings home. But they are treated like second-class citizens by a state that they keep afloat with their remittances.
With the restoration of democracy there is hope that the Labour Ministry in Kathmandu will be stricter in ensuring that workers are not cheated, that they are paid a minimum wage and have insurance.
There used to be only 400 Nepali workers in Qatar in 1994, this jumped to 25,000 in 2000 and today it stands at more than 150,000. Although more and more managerial level and skilled workers are migrating, 85 percent of Nepalis here are manual labourers.
That is why they are at the bottom of the salary ladder-even among workers from other countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Those countries enforce a minimum salary of 800 riiyal ($1=3.6 riyal) and also insist on overtime pay, insurance and other benefits.
Nepal has stipulated a minimum wage of $125 but doesn't enforce it. In fact, industry sources say civil servants at the Ministry of Labour are in cahoots with recruiters and middlemen in Qatar to send workers to Qatar at below-minimum wage.
Journalist and Lalitpur MP Raghuji Panta was Minister of Labour last year when he ran into a dozen Nepali workers at Doha airport because they were cheated by recruiters. When he got back to Kathmandu he immediately revoked the licenses of two manpower agencies. "The ministry is not careful about certification and our embassy doesn't do enough to monitor non-compliance," Panta told us.
It is an indication of the fortitude and adaptability of Nepalis that despite the rampant exploitation, they have earned a good reputation in Qatar for being honest and hardworking. They work in an oil-rich desert sheikhdom that is 15 times smaller than Nepal and has 30 times fewer people, yet Nepali construction workers are much sought after. Part of the reason is that Nepalis are willing to work for less money.
But the hardship, homesickness and low pay saps the Nepalis and that has taken its toll. In 2005, four Nepali workers committed suicide. In 2005 there were 10 suicides and so far in 2006 12 Nepalis couldn't bear it any longer and have already killed themselves.
Many Nepalis also die in traffic accidents. The toll was 30 last year and eight Nepalis have been killed on roads in the past four months alone. The dry desert climate and temperature that soars to 50 degrees inside their quarters means many fall sick. Forty-eight Nepalis died in 2005 and so far this year 21 have already died.
Nepal's ambassador to Qatar Shyam Nanda Suman says the government should not allow anyone earning less than 600 riyal to migrate for work here. "The Labour Ministry must make sure that the recruiters are not lying in the papers," he says.
Shafiz Khan, a Nepali employment agent in Qatar who has found jobs for 1,500 Nepalis here in the past five years say workers must educate themselves about their rights and procedures and they should get basic skills training before they come here. "The government and the ministry are only interested in shipping the workers out, they are not paying enough attention to give skills training to the workers so they can earn more," he says.
Walk down the streets of Doha where Nepalis hang out in evenings on their day off, and you hear them exchanging horror stories. While some dance and sing folk songs from back home, others share their woes with anyone who is willing to listen. The Nepali embassy here receives up to seven Nepalis cheated by employers or recruiters everyday. Some haven't been paid, others have been abandoned by employers. There are now about 361 Nepalis in jail accused of having fake documents, in most cases they were cheated by fellow-Nepalis back in Kathmandu.
. Kamal KC from Dang paid Rs 80,000 to a recruiter to find him a job as a computer operator in Qatar. When he got here a month ago, he found that the employer who is supposed to have hired him doesn't exist.
. Bir Bahadur Ghorsane from Morang has been in jail for four months after immigration accused him of having a fake passport that was arranged by his recruiter in Nepal.
. Parsuram Dotel, Sushil Shakya and Bipin Karki paid Rs 60,000 each to their recruiter, Ganga Bahadur Basnet of Subham Overseas. But once they got here, they found there was no job for them. For the past four months, the three have been living on charity from fellow-Nepalis on the streets. Shakya can barely control his anger: "I can't wait to return to Nepal and get my hands on this Ganga Basnet."