SC asks govt to bring back migrant Nepalis stranded in foreign lands

Kathmandu, April 16

The Supreme Court today issued an interim order to the government asking it to take care of the health needs of Nepali migrant workers living in foreign countries and to repatriate vulnerable Nepali workers from foreign countries to Nepal.

A single bench of Justice Sapana Pradhan Malla issued the order in response to a writ petition filed by Advocate Som Prasad Luitel and others against the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and others seeking relief for Nepali workers stranded in foreign countries.

The court asked the government to seek through Nepali embassies the details of Nepali migrants suffering from COVID-19 in foreign countries and to ensure that they were getting treatment as per World Health Organisation rules without any discrimination. The court ordered the government to bring back vulnerable Nepali migrants from foreign countries in the face of COVID-19 pandemic while ensuring that larger population was not at risk of COVID-19 infection due to reckless entry of migrants from foreign countries.

The apex court cited provisions of Section 75 of Foreign Employment Act that stipulated that the Government of Nepal had the responsibility of repatriating Nepali migrants from labour destination countries with the help of Nepali diplomatic missions and labour attaches in the event of a pandemic, war or natural disaster.

The apex court also observed that as per Section 33 (b) of the Act, the government might use Migrant Labour Workers Welfare Fund to bring back Nepali migrant labourers from foreign countries and provide relief to them and their families.

The SC pointed out that the Government of Nepal could not ignore the plight of Nepali migrants who had been contributing greatly to the nation’s economy but had lost their jobs and faced difficulties. The apex court observed that Nepali migrants living in foreign countries were at risk of COVID-19 infection and those who had contracted the virus could lack access to treatment in foreign countries.

“The government cannot be a mute spectator when some countries are pressuring it to take its nationals back. Moreover, some migrant labourers have also made urgent pleas for help-seeking to return home,” the apex court observed in its order. It added that the government must do more to protect the interests of Nepali migrant labourers.

Taking care of all citizens’ health, protection and other needs is the state’s obligation, the court observed.

The Supreme Court added that if the government did not take care of physical and mental health of all Nepali citizens whether they were living within Nepal or outside the country, it would affect not only the well-being of the concerned citizens but also of their families.

The court observed that petitioners had raised a serious question about Nepali migrant labourers’ right to life and right to return to Nepal without any discrimination.

Petitioner Luitel said he had not sought repatriation of all migrant workers but only those who were vulnerable in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. “There is two billion rupees in Migrant Workers Welfare Fund and the government can use that fund to repatriate vulnerable workers and provide them relief,” he added.

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