Kuwait lifts Covid-19 travel bans but Nepalis still not allowedThe decision has cast uncertainty on the future of hundreds of Nepalis, including the workers who had returned home during their job break from Kuwait.
Kuwait has continued its travel ban on Nepalis from entering the country even though it has decided to lift the Covid-19 travel restrictions starting Saturday.
The Gulf state on Thursday decided to lift the travel ban, except for the citizens of seven countries, which include Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and Philippines, said its Centre for Government Communication.
The move has come as a surprise for Nepali migrant workers living in Kuwait and also for those planning to go there for employment.
“The decision to exclude Nepal from the list of countries for which the travel ban was lifted was not something we had anticipated,” said Suraj Shakya, a migrant worker based in Kuwait. “The country which is in the fourth phase of its lockdown has slowly moved towards normalcy.”
In early March, Kuwait had suspended all international flights to and from the country and barred entry for foreigners to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The decision to bar Nepali nationals from visiting Kuwait, which hosts nearly 70,000 Nepali migrant workers, will once again hit those Nepalis who have been waiting to migrate to the country for jobs, as well as those workers who were in Nepal on job break and had got stuck in the country due to the pandemic and the lockdown.
Kuwait is among the top-five labour destinations for Nepalis.
The Kuwaiti government’s latest decision means that Nepali workers will not reach Kuwait for employment even though the Nepal government has already decided to resume labour migration—the move which was widely criticised.
According to Shakya, who is also associated with the Non-Residential Nepali Association, an estimated 1,200-1,500 Nepali workers, who had gone home during their job break, remain stuck in Nepal due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown.
“Workers on their job break have been affected the most by the decision of the Kuwaiti government. They have been waiting to return to Kuwait for months now,” said Shakya. “Furthermore, there are around 500-700 people who cannot return now because their visas expired while they were stuck in Nepal during the lockdown.”
Since the government started re-entry work permit for those workers who were on work break, 176 Nepali workers have received the permit papers to fly back. They are currently waiting for the flight services to resume.
The Nepal government earlier this month decided to resume both international and national flights from August 17 after nearly four months of lockdown and travel restrictions.
On Wednesday, the Kuwaiti government also said it would resume commercial flights from August 1.
In the first phase, according to the Kuwait News Agency, flights will cover a 20 countries—eight countries in the Middle East, six in Europe, five in Asia including Nepal, and to Ethiopia as the lone African destination.
However, Nepali workers’ chances of flying back to Kuwait still remain suspended, as it is still not clear when the Kuwaiti government will lift the travel ban for Nepali citizens.
Delay in the opening of regular commercial flights has already affected repatriation of thousands of Nepali migrant workers in the region, including in Kuwait, who wanted to return home. Workers who could not pay for the expensive chartered flights have no other options than to wait for regular flights.
Over 2,900 undocumented Nepali workers, who had applied for the Kuwaiti government’s general amnesty, were brought home in aircraft arranged by the Kuwaiti government in June.
“Kuwaiti airport is opening from Saturday. But the stranded Nepali workers cannot return home because our airport has not resumed,” said Maskey. “Meanwhile, those Nepalis who want to return to Kuwait for their jobs also cannot do so, as the Kuwaiti government is not allowing Nepalis.”