27 Jan - 2 Feb 2017 #843

High risk and no return

Nepali migrant workers borrow money, do not earn promised salaries, and if they die their indebted families are cheated of compensation
Puru Shah in DUBAI

When Surya Nath Mishra, the former Nepali ambassador to Qatar met officials in Doha, they often praised Nepali workers, saying: "We like workers from Nepal because they are hardworking, loyal, honest, and easy to control. Qatar needs more workers like them".

All pics: Puru Shah
Halima Khatun, whose husband was killed in Qatar in a traffic accident six years ago, showing her husband’s cancelled passport.

Mishra worked to improve pay and conditions of Nepali migrant workers in Qatar, and by the time his four-year tenure ended in 2011 was able to double wages for unskilled labourers from 400 Riyals to 800. Despite two wage hikes, which were vehemently opposed by manpower agencies in Nepal, it was still lower than other South Asian and Filipino workers on the same jobs.

Qatar has a liberal labour economy, the wages are set by host countries,” Mishra says, “the wages of Nepali workers were so low because the government of Nepal had not revised wages since 2002.”

Unlike Gurkha soldiers who get recognition for their service, potential residency rights in Britain, and a generous pension when they retire, migrant workers in the Gulf or Malaysia receive very little pay, no respect or residency rights, and no pay after termination. Gurkhas take a low risk, high return route to a better life, while migrant workers are limited to taking a high risk, low return approach.

Young males between 15-44 account for 84 per cent of all Nepali migrant workers, and their mortality rate is higher than for that age group in the general population. Nepali workers borrow money, do not earn what they are promised, and if they die while abroad their families are cheated of compensation and face indebtedness.

That is what happened to Halima Khatun (pictured above) who lives in Harsar, a village 20 km north of Janakpur. She has two huts, one for her buffalo and the other for herself. Her husband, Bhoril Kawari, was working in Doha and was struck by a car six years ago while returning from evening prayers. Halima became a widow and had the sole responsibility to raise a son and daughter.

Halima cannot read or write. Her husband had borrowed Rs 300,000 from local moneylenders to pay for his visa, airfare, and recruiting agency. Now, she is saddled with the debt. The state of Qatar made a blood money payment of $32,000 to the family, out of which Halima received only $22,400. She says government officials took the rest.

She was also entitled to Rs 600,000 compensation from the government, and was cheated by a local agent who had accompanied Halima to Kathmandu. He made her sign papers and prevented her from appearing in person at the office in Babar Mahal. She only got Rs 15,000. She used what she got to pay off her debt, marry her daughter, and buy some land which she now farms with her son.

Halima was cheated from getting full compensation of her husband's death. She washes dishes on the street outside her home in Dhanusha district.

The death of Halima’s husband was not isolated in 2010, he was among 123 Nepali migrant workers that died in Qatar that year. Another 133 died in 2011. The figure has been increasing every year with 179 in 2012, 206 in 2013, and 211 deaths in 2014.

Read also:

Qatar is reforming labour laws, but is Nepal?, Om Astha Rai

Killed in the line of duty, Om Astha Rai and Sonia Awale

Our remit, Editorial

Home they bring the workers dead, Upasana Khadka

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