The next stepHealth issues must be addressed to safeguard migrant workers, backbone of our economy
Recently, the government has ambitious steps towards providing protection for the thousands of Nepalis who leave the country to seek work, and well they should. According to the Department of Foreign Employment, over half of all Nepali households now have at least one migrant family member currently abroad or living in Nepal as a returnee. Given these statistics, the consultation meeting between the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) held on Wednesday regarding the National Migration Health Policy to address migrant health issues was a much needed development.
The new policy aims to address the health rights of Nepali migrants and provide access to quality health services. It will be based on principles that recognise the health rights of citizens; the right to health-related information at both pre-departure and employment at destination stages; easy access to health services, accountability of health services providers; and regulated and monitored health assessment services. Feedback generated from broad-based dialogue between attendees ranging from government officials to media persons who were invited to the consultation will be taken into consideration by the MoH and incorporated into the policy. Following this, a process of endorsement will be initiated and related action plans will be developed and implemented.
Ambitious though this policy may be, the necessity for such a development cannot be overstated. A report released by a sub-committee of the International Relations and Labour Committee of Parliament highlighted the pitiful state of an estimated 1 million Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf region. Workers are often charged exorbitant fees by recruitment agencies, leaving them crippled by debt and forced to work under conditions bordering on the abusive. More than 5,000 Nepali migrants have died while working abroad since 2008, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). That the government has failed to take a strong and judicious stance to protect migrant workers is glaringly evident. The development of this policy is a much needed step in ensuring the fundamental right to health for all Nepalis as enshrined in the constitution.
This policy, with the aim to reduce health vulnerabilities of migrant workers in all stages of the migration cycle, is the most recent among a range of actions the government has taken to safeguard migrant workers. In January, an ambitious plan to double the insurance cover for Nepalis going to work in over 110 work destinations was unveiled. The Ministry of Labour and Employment also stated that it would increase compensation for families of migrants who work abroad in the event of injuries or death.
These proactive efforts by the government are to be commended, but policy documents alone will not effect change. Nepal is still in need of dedicated policies and investments and their implementation in preparing nationals for overseas work, protection mechanisms throughout the migration life cycle, and return and reintegration policies. The plight of migrant workers is not something to be ignored, especially by those who are specifically charged with safeguarding the populace.