Nepal | July 07, 2020

Use govt fund to rescue migrant workers: Supreme Court

Himalayan News Service
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Kathmandu, June 16

The Supreme Court has ordered the government to use its fund to rescue Nepali migrant workers, who have been stranded in various countries and are willing to return home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order was passed by the division bench of justice Ananda Mohan Bhattarai and Hari Prasad Phuyal, in response to a writ petition filed by Advocate Shom Prasad Luitel against the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers over the latter’s decision to operate the rescue flights at the expense of the migrant workers.

As per the court’s order, the government should use Foreign Employment Fund to repatriate Nepali migrant workers, who went to work abroad on the basis of labour permits issued by the authorised body, said petitioner Luitel talking to THT.

At present the government has Rs 5.7 billion in Foreign Employment Fund. Luitel said although the apex court did not make any ruling about undocumented Nepali migrant workers as that was not the issue in this writ petition, it was, however, government’s duty to bring back undocumented workers also from abroad.

“The government had repatriated undocumented workers in the past and it should continue to do so in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic using its own fund,” Luitel added.

The court also ordered the government to immediately start the rescue mission after framing a directive in consultation with the stakeholders, including the writ petitioner.

The court asked the government to consult stakeholders including the writ petitioner because the court believed that expert’s opinion would be helpful to rescue the stranded migrant workers, Luitel said.

“Nepalis, who are in various countries for foreign employment with labour permit, have contributed to Foreign Employment Welfare Fund.

Therefore, the government is directed to immediately rescue Nepali migrant workers to maintain balance between the legitimate aspiration of the contributors and justifiable use of the fund,” the apex court observed.

The apex court held that the government cannot shy away from its duty to rescue Nepalis, who had left the country for employment with labour permit but are compelled to return home before completion of their contract; are not entitled to get air-tickets from respective destination countries or employers; are left penniless and cannot afford to buy travel ticket and are awaiting help of diplomatic mission or labour attaché.

“Nepali citizens leave for foreign employment not only to earn for their families but also to contribute to the national economy,” the apex court observed.

The SC has also ordered the government to develop a procedure for rescue of Nepali migrant workers from its own fund by holding consultation with the concerned stakeholders including the writ petitioner.

Earlier, the government had issued a procedure, which required Nepalis to bear airfare for rescue. The government had also fixed the chargeable airfare for those willing to board the rescue flights from various countries.

The apex court also ruled that it was the duty of the labour destination counties to protect migrant workers from the COVID-19 infection and treat them if they contracted the disease and while doing so, the labour destination countries cannot discriminate against anybody on grounds of nationality or visa status and if they did that, then that would be a violation of migrant workers’ basic rights and international human rights laws. The court also ordered the government to ask labour destination countries to protect Nepali migrant workers as per the guidelines of World Health Organisation.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on June 17, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.

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