ISLAMABAD-Every week a handful of Nepali men make their way out of Afghanistan to the Pakistani city of Peshawar. They are headed for the Nepali embassy in Islamabad. They have no passports, no money, no place to stay. Sometimes they have nothing to prove that they are Nepali.
Their stories are always the same: they went to Afghanistan to work after selling their houses or land in Nepal. The recruiter took them to New Delhi, where they waited a couple of months to get a tourist visa from the Afghan embassy. When their passports were finally stamped with a visa-usually valid only for 15 days-they left for Kabul.
Another recruiter there promised to arrange a work visa for another few hundred dollars. He took their passports and put the men up in small lodges run by Nepalis to wait for their work visas.
Some 500 Nepalis are estimated to be waiting for jobs. The lodges charge $10 a day for small rooms where these men watch Hindi television programs, play cards, cook and just wait. When a job comes along, they go for the interviews. Out of hundreds of candidates, just one is chosen.
Usually they never hear from their agents again. Some are picked up by Afghan police and thrown into jail for overstaying their visas. When money runs out they realise they will not get a job or get their passports back, so they make their way to the Pakistan border.
If they are lucky, they are not arrested at the border and eventually reach the Nepali embassy in Islamabad, which verifies their nationality and provides temporary travel documents to help them return to Nepal. Some have been stuck in Kabul for more than three years. Some have decided to stay on, hoping their luck will change some day.
Nepal's Department of Labour bans Nepalis from working in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there are those who do get good jobs in Afghanistan, usually in security companies. A job that would earn them $100 a month elsewhere gives them $1,000 in Kabul-which is why Afghanistan is such a magnet despite the risks.
Afghan immigration regulations have recently been tightened, and it is no longer so easy to get a visa in New Delhi. So Nepalis are now heading for Dhaka, Dubai and even Tehran to get Afghan visas.
If a licensed Nepali manpower agency is found to be sending labourers to either Iraq or Afghanistan, the penalties are steep, so the recruiters who offer work in these countries are unregulated. Because most of those heading for Afghanistan travel via Delhi (because of the direct Delhi-Kabul flights), it is hard to know the numbers involved.
There is no Nepali consulate in Kabul to help. The Islamabad embassy looks after Nepali interests in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey, and the small staff is ill-equipped to cope with the many demands of its citizens in trouble. But illegal migration to Afghanistan is not a problem that is likely to go away soon, so there is a need for liaison between Nepalis in Afghanistan and the embassy in Islamabad.
Four years have passed since 12 Nepali men were abducted and murdered in Iraq. A new Foreign Employment Act was formulated last year. But imposing bans on countries doesn't work. As long as there is the hope of high salaries, workers will find ways round rules and laws.
If the government were to lift the ban and allow the registered manpower agencies to send labourers through legal channels, this might reduce the abuse and end the miserable situation of Nepalis languishing in the dingy dives of Kabul.