Kuwait allows flights to Nepal but restrictions at home leave migrant workers exasperatedWith international flights suspended, many migrant workers are unable to travel back home.
Sangita, a Nepali migrant worker in Kuwait, had planned on returning home this month.
She has been working as a domestic help for a family in the Kuwaiti city of Al Sabahiya, some 33km away from the capital, for the last two and a half years, and was excited to reunite with her family.
“My employer had bought the air ticket on May 10 unaware of the travel restrictions in Nepal,” Sangita told the Post from Al Sabahiya.
Nepal enforced international flight suspension starting May 6 amid a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Initially, the flight suspension was imposed until May 14 and since Sangita’s flight was on May 23, she had hoped there would be no disruption in her travel plans.
But, before she could return home, the Nepal government on May 11 extended the international flight suspension until May 31.
“I was expected to take my flight on Sunday. Back home, everyone was happy that I was coming home,” Sangita, who hails from Kailali district in western Nepal, said. “Now I cannot fly back home.”
As Kuwait had suspended direct flights to Nepal, Sangita was to first fly to Dubai and catch another flight to Kathmandu. Kuwait has since removed Nepal from its outgoing flight suspension list.
The Kuwaiti authorities allowed the resumption of direct outgoing flights to Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka starting May 18, according to Arab Times. Incoming flights from these countries are still banned.
“Even the Kuwaiti government has allowed direct flights to Nepal, but I still cannot travel,” said Sangita.
Like Sangita, many other Nepali migrant workers have been affected by the international flight suspension enforced by the Nepali authorities.
“The Kuwaiti government has lifted the ban on direct outgoing flights to countries like Nepal. This means flights from Kuwait carrying Nepali passengers can go to Nepal,” an official at the Nepal Embassy in Kuwait told the Post over the phone. “If only international flight suspension was not in place in Nepal, or had our government allowed flights from Kuwait, many Nepali migrant workers would have returned home by now.”
While many labour destination countries have prohibited entry for Nepali nationals over Covid-19 scare, Kuwait has become the second country to ease its travel restriction to Nepal.
Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Arabia had announced that it would be reopening its land, sea and air routes after its months-long travel restriction. The announcement made it possible for Nepalis to enter the Gulf kingdom and also return home. But with both domestic and international flight services suspended in Nepal, the reopening of flights has meant little for Nepalis.
The halting of international flights has already affected Nepalis seeking overseas jobs as well as those stuck abroad after the expiration of their employment contracts.
The Nepal Embassy official in Kuwait says the Kuwaiti government’s decision to allow one-way flight to Nepal could at least help migrant workers return home.
“Direct flights from Kuwait had been in operation until the first week of this month before the international flights suspension was enforced. If Nepalis want to go back, they can still return home, provided our airport is open,” the official said. “There is a large number of Nepalis who would rather return home than stay back, as their income has been affected with the pandemic. Permission given to operate one-way flights to Nepal from Kuwait can provide relief to such Nepalis.”
Labour migration to Kuwait has remained affected for more than a year, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Even when Kuwait eased its travel restrictions in a phase-wise manner, first in August last year and then in February, Nepali nationals were still prohibited from entering the country.
“When direct flights from Kuwait to Nepal were in operation, those flights used to be full. The outflow of Nepalis leaving for Kuwait was huge,” the official said. “Jazeera Airways flights, which would carry passengers from Kuwait and return empty from Nepal, would see an impressive number of passengers. There are still many Nepalis who want to return home.”
While the Nepal government is mulling to resume a limited number of regular commercial flights from some countries, it has not announced any decisions yet.
Meanwhile, Sangita, the Nepali domestic help in Kuwait, does not know what will happen to her plan of flying back home.
According to her, some Nepalis have even extended their visas after the flight suspension was extended in Nepal.
“The Kuwaiti government resuming the direct flight service to Nepal is undoubtedly a good news. Returning home on a direct flight would be much easier, if only flights from Kuwait were allowed to fly to Nepal,” Sangita said. “I had packed my luggage and made all the preparations. Now I do not know when I will be able to return home as the Nepal airport is still closed.”