Bahrain offers free vaccines to undocumented workers but Nepalis are not showing upOnly 50 of around 600 undocumented Nepalis have registered for vaccination, possibly fearing arrest. Nepali mission says the fear is unfounded.
The Nepali mission in Bahrain, a labour destination for Nepali workers in the Persian Gulf, has a unique problem.
As part of its Covid-19 vaccination drive, the Bahrain government has offered free vaccines to all including expats on its soil. As a result, Nepali migrant workers living and working in the Gulf state are being inoculated.
Unlike most other countries, Bahrain has offered to vaccinate also the illegal immigrants and workers. This means even undocumented Nepali migrants can get the vaccine shots, while most countries including Nepal have been scrambling to arrange for Covid-19 vaccines.
On June 18, the Nepali mission in the Bahraini capital Manama first published a notice asking undocumented Nepali workers to register for getting Covid-19 shots. However, the response to the free Covid-19 vaccination offer has not been encouraging even after repeated calls by the embassy.
“In an act of generosity, the Bahraini government said it would vaccinate everyone including undocumented Nepali workers,” Padam Sundas, Nepali ambassador to Bahrain, told the Post over the phone. “Therefore, we wanted to organise a camp for them and published a notice so that undocumented Nepalis would come forward to get vaccinated.”
But only 50 have come forward and enrolled for the free Covid-19 vaccines, he said. According to the information shared by the Bahraini government with the Nepali mission, the country hosts around 600 undocumented Nepali workers.
After a disappointing turnout, the Nepal embassy, on Wednesday, put another notice on its Facebook page, asking the undocumented workers not to miss the opportunity to get vaccinated.
“Maybe they fear they could be arrested if they came for vaccination,” Sundas surmised. “However, their fear is unfounded. We can ensure that no such actions will be taken against them. The vaccines have been made available also for undocumented workers so that everyone living in the country is safe.”
Bahrain has been a leading regional actor in its vaccination drive among its counterparts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—a political and economic alliance of six countries that include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.
Bahrain was only the second country after the United Kingdom to approve the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, resulting in higher vaccination rates, as it had started vaccinating its people as early as December 2020. As Covid-19 vaccines are easily accessible in Bahrain, recipients can choose among four types of vaccines—AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sinopharm and Sputnik V.
Nearly 65.8 percent of its population has been fully vaccinated so far.
According to Sundas, the ambassador, nearly 95 percent of around 35,000 documented Nepali workers in Bahrain have received the shots.
The concern is for the 600 undocumented Nepali workers who have been reluctant to register for vaccination.
A total of 15 Nepalis have died of Covid-19 in Bahrain. Of them, 13 died during the ongoing second wave of the pandemic.
“The number of undocumented workers is not big, but we want to ensure that they are also vaccinated,” said Sundas. “When we contacted the employers to inquire about the deaths, we found that they had not received the vaccine. Employers told us that some of the workers were also hesitant to get vaccinated.”
Lately, Covid-19 cases have been falling in Bahrain. Since the start of the pandemic, the country has recorded 266,685 infections and 1,366 coronavirus-related deaths.
According to the ambassador, undocumented Nepalis do not need to fear arrest or any legal actions because the notice is genuinely for vaccinating them, not a trap to detain them.
As they are not showing up, the embassy and local authorities have even planned to send messages to the undocumented workers through their friends that no actions would be taken against them.
“The Bahraini government has all the details of the undocumented Nepali workers and knows who are they and where they have been living,” said Sundas. “They must be hiding under the illusion that they cannot be tracked. If the authorities wanted, they could take action against them within hours. So we request them to avoid the fear of being arrested and use the opportunity to receive the vaccine.”