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Plight of Nepal’s Migrant Workers
September 30, 2014, 1:42 pm

Often cheated and frequently facing atrocious working conditions, young Nepalese are still flocking abroad for work. Confronted with a lack of employment opportunities at home, every day 1,500 or more young Nepalese go aboard seeking employment opportunities, according to official data. In fact, the number is likely to be even higher, as government records do not include illegal migrant workers.

Prolonged political transition, economic depression, and the closure of industries are the main reasons for the alarming level of unemployment that prevails in the Himalayan country. The failure of Nepal’s political parties to adopt a new constitution has further hindered economic development. Youth, whose unemployment rate was 38 percent in 2012, are losing hope that they will find jobs at home.

The rate of growth of Nepal’s manufacturing sector is projected to fall to a five-year low of 1.86 percent this year, hit by energy shortages, labor issues, and political instability. This further limits job opportunities, creating a palpable sense of frustration among youths. The government of Nepal has opened up 109 countries for work opportunities. The major destinations for Nepalese migrant workers are Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Afghanistan and Japan. At present, 3.5 million young Nepalese are working abroad.

The majority of Nepalese migrant workers employed in these countries are unskilled or semi-skilled laborers, and mostly work in construction, manufacturing or domestic capacities. The number of Nepalese who have gone to India for work is not recorded given the open border between the two countries, but officials believe the figure is in the millions.

The remittances Nepal’s migrants send back home are among the highest in the world as a percentage of GDP, at around 25 percent. These remittances play a significant role in attenuating local poverty. Yet policymakers and economist worry that if the current trend of young Nepalese going abroad continues it will impede the country’s long-term economic development. They argue that while remittances might be a temporary boon to the country’s sick economy, the exodus would stymie the growth of domestic industries and agriculture, to the detriment of the country’s overall economic policy.

Nepal workers going abroad frequently find themselves cheated at every stage of the journey, particularly by brokers and manpower agencies. Many migrant workers have to pay commissions to the middle-men, either by accepting loans at high interest rates or depositing parental property in a bank or other financial institution. The manpower agency sends the young person abroad with inflated salary promises, but reality soon hits when the worker arrives in the foreign country and realizes that the salaries they were promised do not exist.

Another painful reality is that Nepal’s migrant workers are very often subject to unsafe work conditions. According to official government data, two migrant workers die abroad each day on average, with the death toll topping 240 between January and mid-April of 2014. There are also complaints that workers are denied basic facilities and are forced to take on crippling workloads.

According to data published by Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee, an organization working for the welfare of Nepali migrant workers, 400 workers have died while working on facilities for the 2022 World Cup event in Qatar. Despite the frequent and tragic reports of deaths, unemployed Nepalese still say they have no option but to go abroad.

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