The Nepal government finally woke up to the plight of Nepali workers in Iraq, after the American Central Command that controls foreign employment and security affairs in Iraq directed them to return home by 8 August. Nepal had imposed a ban on Iraq as a work destination, branding it unsafe, after 12 Nepalis were killed there in 2004. After the warning from the Command, the government lifted the ban.
The number of Nepalis evading legal provisions and using different entry points to go to Iraq is approaching 40,000. Nepalis persist in going despite the dismal security situation because it pays comparatively more than other countries in the Gulf.
The latest decision of the labour ministry only seems to affirm the 'illegal process' of the past. But lifting the ban on Iraq is not a solution in itself. Now, the government should clearly define the mechanism by which Nepali workers can legally go to Iraq. It should guarantee adequate security measures and facilities for its citizens while signing on new labour agreements.
The government also has to think about the implications of legalising the status of workers who had gone to work through illegal channels. For instance, there are about 35,000 domestic workers in Kuwait alone who went there when it was illegal to do so. If a similar situation arises there, what will Nepal do? More than half of the 3 million Nepali workers abroad are undocumented. What will Nepal do if something happens to these workers? The possibility should be considered before decisions are made.
It is no longer acceptable to send one's citizens for foreign employment through means legal or illegal and then ignore diplomatic relations and collaboration with those countries altogether. The government has to learn from this incident to prioritise its diplomatic duties and due process from now on.