DAMBAR KRISHNA SHRESTHA
Subash Adhikari, a UK-based Nepali architect, worked as a consultant in the Middle East for 12 years after graduating from Cambridge. But after the 25 April earthquake he returned home and now wants to work here.
“It’s an opportunity to return home, be with your family and help rebuild the country,” he says.
Adhikari says more Nepalis are now willing to return, and the government just needs to ensure a professional working environment free of political intervention. Many Nepalis working in the desert heat of the Gulf will also return if they are able to earn up to Rs 25,000 a month here, he says.
India and China have boosted economic growth by encouraging their overseas populations to come back. The 25 April earthquake is an opportunity for Nepal to learn from other countries and its own past. During the Panchayat era, King Mahendra attracted many well-educated and talented Nepali artists, experts and planners. Bhekh Bahadur Thapa was in his 20s when he was brought back from college in the US to be Finance Secretary. Similarly, singers and poets were encouraged to return to Nepal from Darjeeling.
As the Maoist insurgency and political instability caused job opportunities to shrink, an increasing number of Nepalis – both educated, skilled or unskilled -- left the country. But the earthquake is an opportunity to create jobs within Nepal as the reconstruction needs are addressed. The government now needs to come up with right policies and programs to make it attractive for overseas Nepalis to return to work here.
Apart from hundreds of thousands of undocumented seasonal migrant workers in India, more than 3 million Nepalis are now working abroad. The government’s Rs 10 billion reconstruction fund would be used to create jobs in rebuilding the country.
Nepali migrant workers are not only earning money in the Gulf and Malaysia, but are also learning construction skills. Even those who went to the Gulf as unskilled workers are by now experienced and skilled construction workers. Nearly 70 per cent of Nepal’s migrant population is involved in construction, and their skills can be useful for rebuilding the earthquake-devastated country.
TB Karki of the Non-Resident Nepali Association in Qatar, says Nepali carpenters, electricians, masons, plumbers, steel fixtures and engineers working in the Gulf will be more than happy to return home, provided that they get decent salaries.
But Nepali politicians are too busy in their power games to pay attention to this urgent need. Chief Secretary Lilamani Poudel admits that the government has so far failed to tap this opportunity. “We lack a strong and visionary leadership, which is ready to give jobs to competent Nepalis.”
Economist Keshav Acharya thinks it is unfortunate that the government is still devoid of ideas to bring home Nepalis. “This situation is like a musk deer not knowing where its scent gland is,” he says. “Nepalis working abroad are capable of lifting the country from the ruins, and we just need to give them a call.”
Ganesh Gurung, an expert on migration and remittance economy, identifies three classes of Nepalis who are willing to return home: those who are better-off abroad but struggling with identity crisis, those who want to invest their money earned abroad, and those who just go abroad to earn money. “The government needs to give them what they want: respect and responsibility, an investment climate and decent salaries,” he says.
Migrants inbound, Om Astha Rai
Aftershocks in a migrant economy, Mallika Aryal