Ex-migrant workers shudder at thought of Gulf predators
KATHMANDU, Jan 23: Nita Tamang from Sindhupalchowk district worked in Bahrain for two years. When she came back to Nepal three years ago, Rs 10,000 was all she had earned.
Apart from the amount, Tamang had brought back something else, too, with her – a harrowing experience of abuse and exploitation, which she, however, “treasures as it keeps inspiring her to work hard in her own land!”
“After returning home, I have started my own small business. I have not been able to really scale it up so far. Nonetheless, I will never think of leaving the country again for overseas job,” said Tamang, who owns a fancy stall at popular ‘Rudra Market’ in Kalanki chowk.
Her master and mistress in Bahrain were not really bad people, but there is sort of slave culture in that place and Nepali girls are subjected to extreme exploitation and abuse, says 25-year-old Tamang.
Buncha Maya Lama from Dhadhing district had to go through even terrible time when she was in Kuwait. Currently living under care of Maiti Nepal, Lama not only returned penniless but also she was made pregnant.
“I stayed in Kuwait for nine months. There was no single day I had sound sleep,” said Lama who came back to Nepal eight months ago carrying a 5-day-old baby. “Compared to Kuwait, life in Nepal is like living in heaven,” said Lama.
In a survey conducted by UN-WOMEN in 15 districts representing five development regions, an overwhelming majority of women migrant workers who have returned back from the Gulf have said that they would not like to go for overseas job again even if they could earn Rs 8,500 a month in Nepal.
Among 708 women migrant workers interviewed by UN-WOMEN, 603 said that they would stay in Nepal if they could earn just Rs 8,500 a month.
The recently publicized study stresses on creating employment at home to stop forced labor migration.
According to Sharu Joshi, program specialist at UN-WOMAN, during the study conducted last year, there was hardly any woman who did not share bitter experience of her stay abroad. “A very few women go for foreign employment through legal process. When so, majority of our women are bound to suffer,” Joshi said.
As per the data of the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), while 29,713 males made it to the Middle East in six months (from April to September 2013), only 2,246 women left Nepal for the same reason.
Even though fewer females hunt for overseas jobs as compared to their male counterparts, the disparity in the data is actually due to the government failure to curb entry of women to the region through illegal channels.
“If we consider the number of women reaching the Middle East through illegal channels, there would be little difference in the number of the male and female migrant workers,” she added.
It is estimated that only 6 percent of women land in the Gulf with proper legal documents and arrangements. “The rest land there illegally and find themselves in a big trouble,” Joshi said.
Given lack of employment opportunities at home and a very low pay scale, a lot of Nepalis, men and women, opt for overseas job through both legal as well as illegal means for just a few extra bucks -notwithstanding rampant exploitation, abuse and even threats to life in the region notorious for overseas workers.
Insofar as the government is concerned, it is not even able to properly educate the people about the risk involved in opting for such work in the Gulf region – not to mention its failure to create enough employment opportunities at home.
Director General of DoFE, Rabindra Mohan Bhattarai said, “We have not been able to educate the people effectively. Despite much effort to make people aware about the legal aspects and working conditions in the Gulf, people continued to be cheated by agents and manpower agencies,” said Bhattarai.
In a bid to better regulate foreign migration sector, the DoFE has registered 400 agents. Trusted by the government, the agents are supposed to process employment offers for the overseas job seekers. “We are in process of widening the number of agents and make it even more effective,” said Bhattrai.
However, according to Shrestha, though the government’s attempt toward the registration of authentic agents is noteworthy, there are around 60,000 agents countrywide and more effective and integrated programs are needed to displace the unregistered agents.
“Good coordination between the line ministries and departments and integrated efforts of all the stakeholders alone can improve this sector. We have to deal with the issue more seriously and in more focused manner,” she said.
Meanwhile, likes of Tamang and Lama said that they may consider foreign employment if the government can guarantee that they would not be abused or exploited, they, nevertheless, concluded that “working and earning well in our own land would be far more rewarding”.
Most women returning from Gulf face mental disorder
Over 80 percent of women back from the Gulf received by Maiti Nepal face mental disorder, according to chairperson of the organization Anuradha Koirala.
Some of them recuperate after general counseling while others have to be hospitalized. Shelter assistant in-charge at Maiti Nepal Binita Shrestha said that the organization receives five women from the Gulf in average a month and three of them need serious psychological treatment.
“The reason behind the mental disorder by all of them is almost identical. They land in the Gulf unaware of their legal status. Then they realize that their agent had misled them and that they would not get the promised salary. On top of that they are treated in most inhuman manner by their employers,” said Shrestha.
“By the time they manage to free themselves from their workplace and come back to Nepal, they are so badly disturbed that they are hardly in condition to be positive toward life,” she added.
In a recent case, Maiti Nepal sent a woman back from Qatar to a mental hospital in Patan for treatment. She is now back to the shelter home after staying in the hospital for 12 days.
“Her case was very serious. She was so much traumatized that she could not speak properly and had trouble remembering her own name. Now she is feeling much better after the treatment,” said Shrestha.