Concern raised over Nepalis stranded on border

Kathmandu, April 2

The National Human Rights Commission has expressed serious concern about hundreds of Nepalis, mostly migrant workers, stranded on the Nepal-India border.

These Nepalis were employed in various informal sectors across India and were trying to return home. As the government has imposed nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, they have been left in the lurch on the Indian side of the border.

Issuing a press statement today, the NHRC today reminded that it was the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens and respect their human rights amid the lockdown, which most of the countries have put in place.

“The NHRC urges the government to create a conducive environment enabling them to return home after health check-up, in accordance with the prescribed standard on humanitarian grounds, as the Nepalis were compelled to leave India due to problems of unemployment, food scarcity and lack of shelter,” read the statement.

The government had closed its border and stopped international flights on March 22. Some Nepalis working abroad are now stuck, as they have lost their jobs with the host countries going into lockdown.

On March 30, three men swam across the Mahakali River to get into the Nepali side, and were promptly arrested. “Though it will be difficult to live a normal life and exercise all rights in this time of crisis, the government should be serious about the fundamental human rights guaranteed by the constitution and prevailing laws.

The NHRC seeks prompt coordination among the agencies concerned and optimum utilisation of resources to resolve the crisis,” the rights body said. “Citizens of every country expect support from the government in difficult situations. It is a matter of serious concern that many citizens have not been allowed to cross the Indian border for their safe return. High-level government authorities have to monitor their condition and create an environment for their dignified return,” the NHRC added. The NHRC also called on the government to comply with Article 52 of the constitution and Article 12 (2) and (4) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nepal is a party.

According to Human Rights Watch, Nepali authorities have made little effort to facilitate the return of its citizens stranded abroad because they have few facilities to quarantine them. Imposing restriction without addressing the needs of its citizens to return home deprives them of their basic rights. Such restrictions are also less likely to be effective, if they force people to live in crowded conditions. The government needs to act immediately so that its citizens can return home. It should also work with other governments to ensure the protection of its citizens abroad, said the rights body.

A version of this article appears in e-paper of The Himalayan Times on April 03, 2020.