Govt plans to evacuate over 35,000 illegal migrants

Kathmandu, May 4

Preparations have been made to evacuate Nepalis living abroad with priority being accorded to those who have been living illegally in labour destinations.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali said Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have already started the process of repatriating illegal migrant workers.

In a webinar organised by the Labour and Employment Journalists Group today, Gyawali said the ministry was coordinating with the concerned countries and asking them to facilitate the process of bringing back Nepali migrants who had been staying there illegally. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates that there may be more than 35,000 illegal workers in these labour destinations.

“Kuwait has taken the registration process forward and both Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have also issued 14-day notices for registration. We are closely coordinating with these countries,” said Gyawali.

Meanwhile, there has been no discussion on repatriating Nepalis from other countries but the government said it could take the initiative to do so.

The government has urged the governments of the concerned labour destinations to provide food, shelter and medical treatment to workers who have lost their jobs. “The government is preparing to arrange for their evacuation,” said Gyawali. “Once workers return, they will first be kept in quarantine and then safely returned home.”

Citing the International Labour Organisation, Gyawali said many migrants could lose their jobs even though there has been no report of large-scale layoffs so far. “We have asked our embassies and missions to provide needful assistance to workers who have lost their jobs,” he stated.

He added that the respective labour destinations had been asked to make arrangements so that there was no legal hassle due to expiration of visas or contract period.

“We have urged them to provide basic amenities as they would to their citizens,” he said. “We have also kept around 1,200 Indian nationals in quarantine as it is our responsibility because they were here,” he said, adding, “Similarly, it is the responsibility of those countries where our workers are to keep them safe.”

Gyawali said preparations were under way to maintain a record of skills of returning workers in order to provide employment to them in the country. For this, the government is coordinating with the Non-Resident Nepali Association and preparations are being made to bring a programme to manage them in the upcoming budget, he added.

He said the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development and Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies are drafting programmes for fiscal 2020-21 to provide employment to returnee migrant workers.

“Since there are no international flights at the moment, it will be difficult to bring workers back immediately,” Gyawali said, adding that the government also needed to be careful in arranging a safe place for them to stay and make sure all safety procedures were adopted when they returned home.

“It’s not easy to bring workers back as soon as a country asks us to do so,” he said. “We sent workers there because they needed manpower for their economy, so it is all about reciprocity,” Gyawali added.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on May 5, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.