Over 40 days in a Kuwaiti camp with no sign of returning homeUndocumented workers in Kuwait had taken advantage of a general amnesty to return home, but the Nepal government has yet to let them fly into the country.
When the Kuwaiti government announced a general amnesty for all undocumented workers, Khem Pariyar was relieved. Pariyar turned illegal two years ago when the company he was working for collapsed. Like most, he could’ve come back home and reapplied with another company but he decided to remain behind in Kuwait.
“I became undocumented as I had loans to clear,” 26-year-old Pariyar told the Post over WhatsApp. “Although I was earning good money, I’m now happy to return home under the amnesty provision because no one knows when the situation could get worse with rising cases of Covid-19.”
Under the general amnesty, he wouldn’t face any financial penalties or blacklisting and would even get a free ride back home.
Hundreds of undocumented Nepali workers like Pariyar registered to return home under the general amnesty. But what was supposed to be a swift flight home has turned into a never-ending wait.
The Nepali have been living in a camp set up by the Kuwaiti government for more than 40 days, with no signs of homecoming.
“We were told that we would be kept at the camp for a few days before catching a flight to Nepal,” said Pariyar. “Since then, we have been living in a camp in the middle of the desert near the Kuwait-Iraq border. We are waiting for permission from the Nepal government.”
While the Kuwaiti government is ready to dispatch the Nepalis at their own cost, the Nepali government has yet to allow them permission to fly into Nepal.
Of the nearly 7,000 undocumented Nepali workers in Kuwait, according to Kuwaiti government estimates, 3,500 have registered to return home under the general amnesty. These Nepalis have been sectioned into six different camps as they await a flight home.
The Abdali camp, where Pariyar has been living, hosts nearly 500 other Nepali workers. While they say they do not have any problem with food and accommodations, they want to return home at the earliest.
Scattered across the Gulf and Malaysia, thousands of Nepali migrant workers like those in Kuwait are in limbo, unable to work in their destination countries due to Covid-19 restrictions and unable to fly back home due to the lockdown implemented by Nepal to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Widespread outrage over the plight of Nepali workers stuck in foreign lands during a pandemic had prompted the government to come up with a plan to bring back Nepalis. In the first phase, the government plans to bring back 25,000 Nepalis, including Pariyar and the others from Kuwait, from the Middle East and Malaysia.
On June 5, 194 migrants—26 from Burma and 168 from the United Arab Emirates—were allowed to return home. Although the Nepalis from Burma were brought in on a plane chartered to repatriate Burmese citizens from Nepal, the Nepalis from the UAE came home on a chartered Air Arabia flight from Sharjah.
While the Burmese government flew in the Nepalis from Burma, the Nepalis from the UAE were reportedly not on the government priority list and were handpicked by the security companies that had chartered the flight, according to the Nepali Times.
Nearly 500,000 Nepalis are estimated to return to Nepal in the long run, but there’s little clarity on the timeline.
“Whenever we talk to the local officials, they tell us that our government is not ready to take us back,” said Surendra Thakuri, another migrant worker in the same camp as Pariyar. “What the Nepal government needs to do is open the airport. People are going mad locked inside camps.”
According to Suraj Maskey, a migrant worker based in Kuwait City, countries like India, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have all taken their citizens who’ve made use of the general amnesty home.
“Nepali workers, whether inside these camps or outside, are going through a lot of psychological tension. They just want to come home,” said Maskey, who is also an honorary member of Non-Resident Nepali Association’s International Coordination Council. “For this to happen, the government needs to allow international flights. Taking back workers from these shelter camps should not be a tough task as Kuwait will be providing the flights.”
According to Pariyar and Thakuri, workers living in the Abdali camp have not been tested even once during their month-and-a-half stay.
“Just getting food and place to stay does not mean we are happy here. We all want to go back to our families as soon as possible,” said Thakuri. “The longer we stay here, the bigger the problem it will be for our family members who rely on us for everything.”