Nepali workers still unsure if they will be able to report to their jobs in KuwaitNepalis have not been able to migrate to Kuwait since March last year. Even after getting jabbed against Covid-19, Nepalis who came home on job breaks are denied entry.
When Basnet, a female Nepali migrant worker in Kuwait, had to return home urgently last October, she thought she would be staying home just for a few months.
The 27-year-old had been working in a hotel in Kuwait for more than three years before returning home due to family reasons.
“I had two months’ leave. I thought I would spend that time with my family,” said Basnet, who wished to be identified only by her surname. “I hadn’t anticipated things to go this bad. I thought the situation would get better in the coming months and I would be reporting back to my job on time.”
But things didn't go as Basnet had planned. It’s been nearly 10 months, and she is still stuck in Nepal.
“I have been counting days to go back to Kuwait. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months,” said Basnet. “I have been following all the updates of Kuwaiti authorities. Some make me excited and then something else happens, leaving me hopeless again.”
For the last two months, Basnet has been staying in Kathmandu. She arrived in the Capital city to get vaccinated against Covid-19 after learning that Kuwait was allowing entry to vaccinated expatriates.
Basnet is among the hundreds of Nepali migrants who had returned home on their job breaks and got stuck after Kuwait closed its borders to Nepali migrant workers due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Kuwaiti government had first suspended all international flights to and from Kuwait International Airport (KIA) on March 13 last year.
Months later in August, when the Kuwaiti government started easing Covid-19-related travel restrictions and gradually resumed passenger flights in phases, Nepalis were still banned from entering the country. Nepal was placed on the list of 35 high risk countries whose citizens were prohibited entry to Kuwait.
In February this year, when Kuwait was gearing up to ease its restrictions, the plan was once again hit by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was only on May 18 when Kuwait decided to resume direct outgoing flights to Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The one-way flight resumption did not help workers like Basnet who had returned home on job breaks.
Even those workers who were stranded in Kuwait could not return home at the time because the Nepal government had also suspended international flights as a measure against the pandemic.
Kuwait in June announced to allow foreigners into the country starting August on the condition that the visitors are jabbed with the vaccines approved by the Kuwaiti government.
The announcement was both encouraging and sobering for migrant workers like Basnet, given that Nepal’s vaccination rate was dismal at the time and migrant workers were not on the vaccine priority group.
The Nepal government eventually prioritised inoculating migrant workers and administered them with Johnson & Johnson jabs, one of the vaccines approved by the Kuwaiti government.
But the plight of migrant workers did not end even after getting vaccinated.
Kuwait-bound workers would face yet another obstacle on their way. This time it was vaccine certificates with Quick Response (QR) codes that would let them down.
After much hue and cry from migrant workers, the government has finally agreed to issue them QR-coded vaccine certificates.
Kuwait has reopened its airports from August 1 but to the dismay of many migrant workers, the country has continued to bar flights from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India.
Keshav Sanjyal, another migrant worker who had returned home on a job break, said things were still uncertain.
“We got vaccinated and obtained the vaccine certificates in the format demanded by the Kuwaiti authorities. But we are still not allowed to fly,” said Sanjyal, who has been in Nepal since March 2020. “We are expecting a decision from the Kuwaiti authorities to lift the travel ban on Nepal.”
Workers like Basnet and Sanjyal can only hope and wait.
Meanwhile, Kuwaiti media have reported that expatriates from high risk countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are still not allowed to enter Kuwait.
Basnet, who is still waiting for her vaccine certificate, says she needs to return to Kuwait in order to support her family.
“There are hardly any jobs for women in Nepal, let alone well-paying ones,” she said. “I need this job for my family and my future.”
Basnet keeps checking her social media hoping for updates on Kuwait’s travel restrictions.
“Since coming to Nepal, all I have been doing is following all the news related to Kuwait. But there has been no luck so far. I get good news in the evening and next morning it changes to worse,” said Basnet.