Kathmandu, July 19
The role of Nepali Embassy in Thailand has come into question for brokering a ‘pre-emptive deal’ between 10 Nepali students stranded in Bangkok, and Sunil Khadka and Sujan Basnet, who took them to Bangkok for a hotel management course charging around Rs 4 lakh from each.
Bag Bazaar-based Kritipur Broad Studies had sent the students, including two girls, to Bangkok-based International Hotel and Airline Business School in two batches — first four months ago and another two months ago. According to the school’s website, Khadka is its managing director, Basnet its director and Thai national Siriwuth Wuthisuwanwat its president.
After students came to know that they had been defrauded, they posted a video on social media websites seeking help.
In the video, the students have said they came to Thailand for an eight-month diploma course — two-month classroom training and six-month internship. The training comprised four components — barista, bar service, wine service and restaurant.
They said in the video, available on Facebook page of Non-resident Nepali Association Thailand, that the school neither provided them with training nor internship. The school did not even have necessary equipment. Unlike a grand building shown in the school’s brochure, the school is housed in a small three-storey building whose roof leaks water.
Students said their passports were seized and they were housed in a pig pen like accommodation which did not have emergency exit. They did not have money for food and there were no medical facilities.
They said in the video that when they complained to Khadka and Basnet, Khadka tried to intimidate them citing his political connection in Nepal. As per Khadka’s Facebook page, he is a central committee member of the Socialist Party Nepal.
Students said they were also enrolled in another language institute in Kalasin Province bordering Laos to get visa extension since their school was not eligible to enrol international students.
They then decided to post a video on social media of their plight after coming to know that a visa acquired through language institute would make them ineligible for internship in hotel management and the police could arrest them if found working.
After watching the video on July 15 evening, the NRNA Thailand immediately forwarded it to embassy officials. After failing to receive a response, NRNA officials discussed the matter with the embassy the following day, according to NRNA Thailand President Assajita Awale Dhanwa.
“Embassy officials said they did not have students’ contact details. We collected contact details and address of students and submitted them to the embassy,” Dhanwa told THT over phone from Bangkok.
When the NRNA again contacted embassy officials on July 16 evening, they contradicted themselves and said they were in contact with students and Thapa and Basnet for the past two-three days, and that they had agreed to come to the embassy on July 17 for signing a ‘reconciliation agreement’, said Dhanwa.
Dhanwa and his team then reached the embassy at 11:00pm on July 16 seeking their help for an emergency rescue of the students. But the embassy officials made a telephone call to the students and assured Dhanwa and his team that they were safe. “We urged the embassy to make the NRNA a witness to the agreement planned for the next day and left,” said Dhanwa.
However, a deal had already been struck between the students and Khadka and Basnet the same day.
Deputy Chief of Mission at the embassy Janga Bahadur Gurung told THT over phone from Thailand that the agreement was signed between the two parties on July 16. Khadka and Basnet told the embassy that their Thai partner betrayed them leading to this problem, according to Gurung. “Then an agreement was reached between the two sides whereby the students would get compensation of investment they made to travel to Thailand,” he said. Gurung said students had been handed over one-month post-dated cheques of Nepali banks. He added that they had already bought open return tickets while coming to Thailand.
Students were then sent back to Nepal. Three of them reached Nepal on July 17, whereas seven of them arrived today. The Himalayan Times has names and details of the students, but chose not to publish them for privacy reasons.
After the agreement at the embassy, the students again posted an apologetic video. In this new video, they claimed there was a misunderstanding and that the school’s President Siriwuth Wuthisuwanwat, who is at large, was the main culprit who betrayed Khadka and Basnet.
However, Dhanwa wonders how could the embassy accept a person who is absconding as a culprit and broker a reconciliation agreement without talking to him. “Moreover, why did the embassy refuse to include NRNA representatives as witness in the agreement? Why did officials contradict themselves? First saying they don’t have students’ contact details, and then saying they had been in touch with students for two-three days. Why did the embassy ignore the fact that the students were enrolled in a college not eligible to enrol international students and that their visas were extended through another institution?” asked Dhanwa.
He also said it was a case of fraud and that the embassy should not have brokered a compensation deal. “Such compensation deals have happened in the past too, but the problem remains as it is,” he said. “We want action against the fraudster, not just compensation for victims.”
However, Nepal’s Ambassador to Thailand Ganesh Prasad Dhakal told THT over phone from Bangkok that it was the primary responsibility of the embassy to assist Nepalis facing problems there, and it was up to its discretion whether to seek help from other organisations, such as NRNA.
Dhakal said the embassy’s first responsibility was to rescue and send back the students facing problems. “Action will be taken as per the law if anyone is found guilty after investigation,” he said.
Dhakal added that both the parties had already reached an agreement and the embassy witnessed its signing. He said both the parties were content with the agreement.
A version of this article appears in print on July 20, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.