Bait of battlefieldsAt the heart of the Nepali youth’s exodus is a deep suspicion about their country’s future.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showing no signs of ending, global trade continues to be disturbed. But there is more disturbing news coming from the battlefields of Ukraine: Nepalis who have been fighting on behalf of Russia are being killed, maimed or captured by Ukrainian forces. On Monday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal reported that at least six Nepalis had been killed fighting Ukrainian forces. The prime minister also spoke of Nepalis in the Ukrainian army. Although the government has no data on the number of Nepalis serving on either side, there are at least 150-200 Nepalis in the Russian army, according to Milan Raj Tuladhar, Nepali ambassador to Russia.
Meanwhile, Nepal Government has detained 10 individuals on charge of extorting big sums of money from unemployed youths and forcing them into illegal recruitment in the Russian army. Police believe the network of human traffickers sending Nepalis to Russia could be big. The government has also asked Russian authorities to stop employing Nepalis and send home those already working for them. Nepal has also sought compensation for its nationals killed in the Russia-Ukraine war, but the road ahead for the families of the deceased could be long and winding.
The government should continue to press Russian authorities to repatriate the bodies of the Nepali citizens killed there. As families back home receive the devastating news of their loved ones dying in senseless wars fought in faraway lands, Nepal has issued a statement urging citizens not to join foreign armies. But with human trafficking agents working surreptitiously, the government will have to do more than release statements. The fact that Nepali nationals staying in Russia are learnt to be involved in the trafficking of Nepalis only adds to the urgency of the issue and calls for a proactive diplomatic approach to sort things out.
Even as efforts are on to bring back Nepalis, dead or alive, the current imbroglio has made it clear that our youth are desperate and will use every chance they get to leave the country. It is learnt that they are paying almost Rs1 million each to obtain a travel visa to Russia. This should worry the Nepali authorities, as most of these people end up in the Russian army. Why are the Nepali citizens who can eke out such a big amount through loans or savings going abroad in hordes? And this is not just a case of the Nepalis travelling to Russia or Ukraine. There is a similar, even bigger, trend of the Nepalis paying millions of rupees to human traffickers to tread a dangerous path across the jungles of Panama and Mexico to reach the United States.
At the heart of these problems lies a deep suspicion among Nepalis about their future in the country. Despite several progressive changes in Nepali polity and society in the past decade and a half, the country has failed to provide a sense of security and stability to its citizens. Apart from working to improve the country’s political and economic standing, the government should also try to build a more positive image of Nepal. This is a complex matter. Perhaps a start for this image makeover can start with a broad survey of the youth on their idea of a homeland where they can happily live and work.