The government owes a debt to migrant workersWhen workers come home in coffins, the least the country can do is show some respect.
In the decade between 2008 and 2018, more than 6,700 Nepali out-migrants lost their lives in foreign lands. In the same period, Nepal received $38.67 billion in remittances from migrant workers. Last year alone, remittance contributed $8.1 billion to the national income. And, in the same year, 753 Nepalis died abroad while eking out a living for themselves and their families back home. At least 124 Nepalis have already died in the first two months of this fiscal year. It is clear how much Nepal relies upon these poor workers to bring in much-needed income—at great personal risk to themselves.
While states have a duty to protect their citizens, and to look after their welfare, Nepal has embarrassingly failed to do so. This starts with the fact that Nepalis have to continue to look for work in faraway lands; the years of remittance inflow has not sufficiently been fueled into productive sectors and into creating jobs at home. It has also been unable to curb the exploitation of out-migrants by middlemen. Moreover, it has obviously been unable to look after the wellbeing of many of these workers once abroad. Hence a large number of exploitation stories, and the unthinkable amount of dead Nepalis.
And, as if the migrant workers had not faced enough indignity in attempting to make a livelihood, they face further disrespect in their death. The recent news report exposing how not even a properly covered vehicle is provided to transport the bodies of dead migrants from Tribhuvan International Airport to their hometowns shows how little the government cares. What’s worse, successive governments have kept up the affront for at least the past 12 years.
Nepal’s heavy reliance on income from abroad has necessitated the creation of the Foreign Employment Promotion Board. Among its many functions, one is to administer the Foreign Employment Welfare Fund. The Fund, although appearing to work for the welfare and wellbeing of migrant workers, has largely been used to compensate injured workers or the families of the deceased. After the families of the deceased complained about the difficulty of transporting bodies from the airport, the Board started to provide a free transport service—contracted out to transportation companies on a yearly basis. But, for the most part, these companies have been found to be using open pick-up trucks, sometimes with some tarpaulin cover, to transport the deceased and their kin. What’s worse, the trucks have also been found to haggle with the kin on the distance to be covered.
This whole situation is wrong, and demeaning. The Board and related authorities must see the coffins for what they are—the bodies of hardworking citizens who died abroad because of the lack of opportunities back home. If that is not convincing enough, perhaps the government needs to remind itself that the victims were part of a sector that provides much-needed income to the country—larger than the contribution of domestic industries. As such, the bodies, and the victims’ kin, have to be treated with the utmost respect. The least the concerned can do is provide a proper hearse, or a large enclosed and appropriate vehicle, that can cover the deceased, provide shelter and seating for the accompanying kin, and be able to traverse village roads. However, the concerned also have a larger duty. First, to use the Welfare Fund to actually ease the lives of out-migrants so that they are not put at mortal risk. Second, to increase investment in productive sectors so more Nepalis can find jobs close to home.
What do you think?
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