Some Nepali migrants want to come back amid the pandemic’s peak. But, the govt is unlikely to allow

Bharat Giri, a native of Biratnagar in the Morang district in Nepal, is currently in Malaysia. He had a ticket booked to return to Nepal on April 28. However, he was stopped to board the flight after he tested positive for coronavirus. 

On the other hand, in an effort to fight the second wave of the Covid-10 pandemic in Nepal, the government suspended all international flights effective from May 6. Giri, whose visa has already expired, is stuck there with no work and in a dilemma now.

Still, with some hope, he contacted the Nepali embassy in Malaysia inquiring about chartered repatriation flights for returning home. But, he was left disappointed as he got to know that there was no such arrangement.

Many Nepali migrant workers residing in different parts of the world want to return to their families amid the new wave of the pandemic in Nepal. They have different reasons to come home: somebody’s visa has expired; some are left with no work; somebody’s family members are ill whereas some’s even died. 

Some of these workers are calling various bodies such as the Ministry of Labour in Nepal demanding repatriation while others have contacted Nepali embassies in their host countries requesting chartered repatriation flights. They demand that the government of Nepal address the difficulties, but the government does not have any plan yet.

Different people: same problem

The workers say the government needs to repatriate them because it is not a single person’s problem.

Nepalis in the United Arab Emirates wait to board their repatriation flight to Nepal, at the Abu Dhabi airport, on Sunday, June 21, 2020.

For example, Ajay Kushwaha of Kalaiya in the Bara district is also going through the same tension as Giri. His visa expired on May 9, and he is stranded in Malaysia as the flights are suspended. Fearing being booked for overstaying, he has locked himself in a room, waiting for the flight suspension to get lifted. 

Likewise, Dilip Kumar of Siraha also shares similar experiences. He is afraid that even when the flights restart, he will have to stay stranded for a long time as he predicts that there will be increasing passenger pressure.

Bikram Khadka, who is in the UAE, is also tense regarding the same issue. Moreover, he is worried whether the airline will agree to change his flight ticket date later as he had bought a ticket for May 9.

Likewise, Sujan Sharma of Chitwan, who is in Bahrain, is also sad after the flight was cancelled on his way home. He questions, “Why can’t we return to the country with a 14-day quarantine with a Covid-19 negative report? The government of Nepal should make alternative arrangements for the return of its citizens who are in trouble.”

Not any plan for rescue flights

Complaints of stranded workers at Nepali embassies in major labour destination countries are on the rise after the prohibitory order in Kathmandu was extended for the third time. An official of the Nepali embassy in the UAE says the embassy is receiving dozens of phone calls daily urging it to take initiatives to start flights.

A Royal Flight aircraft takes off Kathmandu airport evacuating Russian citizens stranded here, on Monday, April 20, 2020.

“However, we are not in a position to say that the flight will start from this day,” says the official, asking to remain anonymous.

Let alone planning, the government of Nepal has not even thought about bringing back the workers stranded abroad this time. Government officials are in favour of not operating the flight as a means to combat the pandemic.

Any flight unlikely

Sewa Lamsal, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nepal, says there has been no demand for rescue flights from embassies. Therefore, the government has concluded not to operate rescue flights.

“There was an analysis that this lockdown would not go long, but now it seems to remain for some more time,” she says, “The condition of the migrant workers is not worse than what it was last year.”

She adds, “The situation in the destination countries for Nepali migrant workers is far better than Nepal’s.  The ministry is ready to find a solution by coordinating the number of people who want to return due to various problems.”

Krishna Prasad Dawadi, the Director-General of the Department of Foreign Employment, says the government is worried about those who have problems abroad when the flights are suspended. 

File: Nepal Army personnel facilitating the arrival of Nepalis stranded in Myanmar, at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, on Friday, June 5, 2020.

He states, “Those who have health problems, those who have not been able to get services from the employers and those who are in many problems should be rescued. We have asked the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies to present the data about the workers who need to be rescued immediately.”

Dawadi says that the concerned Nepali embassies are also reporting regularly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

On the other hand, Din Bandhu Subedi, the spokesperson for the Foreign Employment Board, asserts that there is no possibility of any rescue flight as the Ministry of Health is in favour of imposing a strict lockdown till mid-June.

 “The situation for workers abroad is not as dire as it was,” he says, “Those who want to come in case of emergency are unlikely to get permission before mid-May.”

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Ghimire is a senior business journalist at Onlinekhabar.

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