KATHMANDU, AUGUST 20

Thousands of migrant workers stranded in various labour destinations have slammed the recent decision of the government to halt the evacuation flights on the very first day of the fifth phase of repatriation, as ‘irresponsible’.

Taking to the social media sites, the migrant workers hoping to be rescued from their work destinations have expressed their dissatisfaction with the government.

The government had earlier announced that the fifth phase of repatriation would begin from August 17. Although a repatriation flight had taken off on the first day, the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre (CCMC) later directed the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to issue any permission for repatriation flights and cancel the previously scheduled flights citing lack of preparations for quarantine.

Due to this decision, an aircraft of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) that had reached Dubai on August 18 had to return empty leaving more than 100 Nepalis stranded at the Dubai airport.

“Lots of migrant workers are waiting here to return home.

Most of the people have become jobless while others are getting very low pay. In such a scenario, workers don’t have any option other than to return home. But the government does not seem serious about this issue,” alleged Santosh Rana, a migrant worker currently working in Abu Dhabi of the UAE.

As per him, most of the workers who had been left stranded at the airport had already vacated their rooms and some of them had overstayed their visa in Dubai.

Due to the flight cancellation, they had landed in trouble.

“What can we call this decision of the government except ‘irresponsible’? It should have made proper arrangements before scheduling the flights,” Rana said, “How are workers — who don’t have money, a job or even a valid visa — going to manage everything here? The government will never understand as it is only taking us as an income source.”

NAC has stated that the workers can return home on the same ticket if the flight resumes soon otherwise their airfare will be refunded.

Pratik Rai Kavrely wrote on a Facebook page named ‘Nepalese living in UAE’ “Why the government cancelled a flight in the last minute that was ready to take off carrying Nepalis from UAE but allowed to bring people from Turkey? The government should take action against Deputy Prime Minister Ishwor Pokhrel for taking such irresponsible decision.”

Another Facebook user Narayan KC Gautam wrote on the same page, “The government allowed Turkish Airlines to bring Nepalis on the same day while it halted NAC’s flight from Dubai.

What is the difference between Nepalis returning from Turkey and Dubai? I say this is the negligent decision of the government to bother migrant workers.”

Meanwhile, a source from MoCTCA said that even the ministry was not informed about the CCMC’s decision. As per the source, MoCTCA became aware of the decision only when it was directed to cancel the flight.

NAC has also said that they were not informed before the flight departed from here. “There were around 268 Nepalis going to Dubai. So we took them to Dubai but while we were preparing to return, we got the information to not bring any passengers as the government has cancelled the flights,” said NAC Executive Director Sushil Ghimire.

Meanwhile, irate migrant workers frustrated with the government apathy have started posting on social platforms that they will be sending money home using hundi — an informal system of remittance that is illegal as the money exchange takes place outside the banking channels.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on August 21, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.