Stuck in limboThat 150 Nepali migrant workers have been stranded in Kuwait for the past six months without pay or valid residency documents is not good news. However, what is worse is that such incidents occur on a regular basis in Gulf countries, and no authority is attempting to remedy the situation.
That 150 Nepali migrant workers have been stranded in Kuwait for the past six months without pay or valid residency documents is not good news. However, what is worse is that such incidents occur on a regular basis in Gulf countries, and no authority is attempting to remedy the situation.
In this most recent case, Nepali workers left for Kuwait with the promise of being paid 110 Kuwaiti Dinars per month, which was cut to 70 Dinars after the company renegotiated the salary and the manpower agency took their cut. The company, Kharafi International, stopped with salary payments altogether after some time, with some migrant workers going without pay for over 110 days. The company also neglected to renew work permits, making the workers illegal in the eyes of the law.
Those workers who could arrange the Rs100,000 exit fine have left Kuwait, but 150 workers are left stranded abroad because they do not have such cash to spare. Their only hope now is for the Nepali government to intervene.
A similar case occurred in March 2016, when 10 Nepali workers were stranded in Saudi Arabia without work permits after their employer, a construction company in Jeddah, was red-listed by the Saudi government. In the absence of valid permits, the workers were considered illegal immigrants and were required to pay a hefty fine of Rs600,000 to Saudi immigration authorities before leaving the country. According to the Nepali Consulate, this massive exit fee sorely hampered the process of bringing back these stranded migrants. These migrant workers should not be held accountable for their ‘illegal’ status, as the fault does not lie with them in the first place.
Cases like these fit a pattern. The Gulf countries mostly function under some form of the notorious Kafala system. In this system, migrants need to have a local sponsor (usually their employer) provide them with a valid work permit. To switch jobs, the employer must agree to transfer the work permit to the new employer. This form of modern slavery gives employers too much control over their migrant workers. Though institutions like the United Nations have urged the Gulf countries to abolish the Kafala system, calling it a discriminatory practise, these countries have only marginally addressed issues. Qatar abolished this system in December 2016, and yet such practices persist.
It is unrealistic to think that the Nepal government alone can put pressure on the Gulf countries to abolish the Kafala system. The state should now attempt to reach out to like-minded countries such as India, the Philippines and Bangladesh that have large out-migration patterns and whose migrant workers suffer from plights similar to that of stranded Nepali workers. Together, these countries can urge international advocacy groups and the UN to monitor the situation closely. At this point, Nepal should advocate for more such investigations.