Migrant rights groups slam government plan to charge migrant workers for their repatriationA writ petition has been filed at the Supreme Court demanding free repatriation and medical services for Nepali workers stranded in various labour destination countries.
The government plan to charge repatriation fees to Nepali migrant workers stuck in various labour destination countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic has been lambasted by migrant rights activists.
Just days after the government unveiled its strategy to bring home the stranded Nepali workers from various countries, the plan has met with criticisms and a writ petition at the Supreme Court from the rights activists.
According to migrant rights activists, rescue, repatriation and medical treatment of migrant workers should be free of charge.
On Wednesday, they filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the government’s plan to charge its own citizens for their rescue and repatriation.
The petition says the provision of the “Order of the Government of Nepal, 2020” which requires the migrant workers to bear the costs for airfare and hotel quarantine is against the country’s constitution and governing legislations.
According to Anurag Devkota, one of the petitioners and a human rights lawyer, the provision in the Order (Paragraph 7 (c) and 7(d)) regarding the cost of airfare and hotel quarantines levied on returnees from third countries and the cost of transportation from holding centres to local quarantine centres charged on returnees from India contradicts the Foreign Employment Act, 2007.
“The provision is against Section Section 75(2) of the Act on rescue and repatriation of migrant workers in a situation of disaster and distress and Section 33(1) on utilising the foreign employment welfare fund for the purpose of rescue and repatriation,” said Devkota.
The writ petition, filed by advocates Barun Ghimire, Prabin Subedi, Anurag Devkota, and Binaya Rimal, has demanded that the state should cover the costs of rescue and repatriation of the troubled migrant workers.
People Forum for Human Rights, a migrant rights group, has also raised its concern on the issue. The government should foot all the expenses from air tickets, to quarantine, to medical check-up, the forum has said.
“The government’s rescue plan, where workers would be made to pay for air tickets, transportation and other services, is unacceptable. These workers are returning without money,” Som Luitel, the forum’s founding president and a lawyer with expertise in migrant rights, told the Post.
The government should negotiate with the employers of the stranded workers and the governments of host countries to arrange for their rescue and repatriation, he said.
“The government should not make the beleaguered workers pay for their arrival back home during these hard times. The government can bear the cost of undocumented workers as well as those who had gone on foreign employment recently,” he added. “Travel and medical expenses of the workers who had migrated for work with valid labour permits should be covered from the welfare fund. The government has the legal obligation to bear their expenses.”
Meanwhile, the forum has also submitted a policy paper to the government recommending ways to manage and employ migrant workers.
The Civil Society Policy Paper on Repatriation and Reintegration of Migrant Workers, which was prepared after consultations with the stakeholders from 47 districts of all seven provinces, contains more than 70 recommendations for the management of migrant workers in destination countries and their repatriation and reintegration..
The paper, which was submitted to the Labour Ministry on Wednesday, also talks about ensuring employment security of the migrant workers and healthcare facilities.
It has also recommended that the government should facilitate the migrant workers, who have lost their jobs, in finding work alternatives in the same countries where they are based.
The forum has also demanded that the government make arrangements for recovering the workers’ unpaid salaries and benefits from their employers, bring back the stranded bodies of migrant workers, and provide compensation from the welfare fund to those workers who have returned before the end of their contract period.
“Cases of Nepali workers being deprived of their salaries were common even during normal times. The government should make sure the due payments owed to the workers by their employers are cleared when they return,” Luitel said. “The government should also compensate these returnee workers by drafting working procedures, which will set criteria, depending upon their work period, as most of them had taken loans to fund their overseas jobs.”
Right activists have also suggested that the government come up with reintegration programmes for returnee workers to employ them at home.
“There should be reintegration programmes targeting the returnee workers. The recent budget had nothing promising for tens of thousands of migrant workers who are expected to return home,” Luitel said. “If the government fails to come up with reintegration schemes, there could be a severe unemployment crisis in the country. The government should turn this situation to the country’s favour by creating jobs for its youths within the country.”