Nepali migrant workers in Lebanon feel forgotten and left outMany workers have been stranded in the crisis-ridden country as Nepal has not approved a flight to bring them home.
Manju migrated to work as a housemaid in Lebanon in 2006. In the last 14 years, she managed to earn some money, build a house for the family in Morang and educate her two sons.
In April, she decided to return to Nepal for good. But the problem was that Nepal was under a complete lockdown and all flights were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“My family wanted me to come back home. So I had planned to return,” Manju told the Post over the phone from Beirut. “I was working in a bank. I had a visa till October, yet I decided to return home.”
Last month, after months of waiting for the flight service to resume, Manju bought a ticket for Nepal at USD 810 which was paid by her employer. After numerous cancellations of flights, her flight was scheduled for Sunday. But, once again, the flight got cancelled.
“We have been hit hard on many fronts. First, there was a shortage of US dollars, then came Covid-19 crisis, followed by a deadly blast in Beirut and now the Lebanese economy is taking a hit due to inflation. On top of that, we cannot go home,” said Manju, who is among several dozen Nepali migrant workers trying desperately to leave the troubled country. “A sack of 20-kg rice which we used to get at Lebanese pound (LBP) 50,000 now cost LBP 320,000. I am without jobs for months now. All the money I had saved is already exhausted. I can barely survive a few more days. How long can I wait?”
The West Asian country, known for its food, culture and rich tradition, is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in its modern history. According to media reports, Lebanon has witnessed a shortage in US dollars caused by the economic slowdown and the drop in cash injections from Lebanese living abroad. The economic slowdown was first jolted by Covid-19 and then the August 4 explosion in the capital city that killed hundreds.
Hundreds of Nepalis living and working in Lebanon could not remain untouched by these events, but they cannot even return home easily. Their struggle for leaving the crisis-ridden country has been dragging on for several months now, and there seems to be no quick way out.
According to Ashok Thapa, the president of the Lebanon chapter of Non-Resident Nepali Association, at least 70 workers, both male and female, have come in touch with the association seeking help to return to Nepal.
“Thirty-three Nepali migrant workers had bought air tickets a month ago. But their flights have been cancelled as many as five times, as the dates of regular flight service to and from Nepal have been delayed several times over due to the pandemic,” said Thapa. “These people are in serious trouble. With the Covid-19 pandemic, there are no jobs, and they are struggling for food and other needs. They have spent all their savings in the last six months.”
According to an estimate of the Honorary Consulate of Nepal in Lebanon, the country hosts nearly 5,000 Nepalis, including workers and peacekeeping forces. Around 2,000-3,000 Nepalis work as domestic help, around 1,000 as factory workers and the rest are serving as peacekeepers.
The condition of Nepali women working as housemaids is worse than others. Nepal government has banned Nepali women from taking housemaid jobs in Lebanon.
“There are women workers whose contract is over and living and working as undocumented workers. These days even host families are struggling with the current crisis in the country, they cannot take care of their housemaids,” said Thapa. “Even after they have bought the tickets, paid the fines and completed all the documentation process, they are unable to travel back home because there are no flights. Taking back the stranded Nepali workers won’t need several flights, one flight would be enough for now.”
Frustrated by the flight delays, the agitated Nepali workers on Saturday demonstrated in front of the Honorary Consulate of Nepal in Lebanon, calling on the Nepali government to take them home immediately.
“We all want to go home. We have vacation so we want to go home. We have already bought tickets. What if we all get infected by Covid-19 here?,” said a lady in a video posted on the Facebook page of the Honorary Consulate of Nepal in Lebanon. “If we die here, our body will be thrown somewhere. Even if we die, we want to die in the country. It is our right to return home.”
“We have been waiting to return home for the last seven months. We have also bought tickets with our own money,” said another Nepali woman.
Elcheikh Mohamed Ghouzayel, the honorary consul of Nepal in Lebanon, informed the workers that he was following up their case and communicating with the Nepal Embassy in Cairo, which also oversees Lebanon, for their safe return at the earliest.
These Nepali feel left out of the government repatriation plans, as not a single flight has been approved to bring Nepalis from Lebanon. While the Nepal government has repatriated 57,325 Nepalis from 58 countries on 367 flights, not a single Nepali has returned from Lebanon.
“Nepalis living in Lebanon are also Nepali citizens. If other Nepalis are being repatriated from other countries, then why are we being left out?,” said another woman in a video shared by Thapa with the Post. “Is it because there are only a few of us, or because we are sending less amount of remittance?”
Another Nepali man said, “Nepali women workers need more support although we all have lost jobs and there is a scarcity of everything these days.”
According to Ghouzayel, undocumented women workers need urgent repatriation as most of them do not have any more money or shelters, and some of them are also sick.
“We are only asking the government of Nepal to give us one extra flight for evacuation, not more. We already have Qatar airways approval to put all the Nepalese on one extra flight,” Ghouzayel told the Post. “They cannot live like this for long.”
Manju, who is a documented Nepali worker, has once again rescheduled her tickets for October. She feels that undocumented workers should be the ones who needs to be taken home at the earliest.
“Undocumented workers are going through the worst. Even people like me who had a decent job are going through a difficult time, living in cramped rooms and surviving on limited food,” said Manju. “How can we say that we have a government in Nepal when they have not even cared to evacuate us from such a situation? If there was a government, we would be home by now.”