Nepal seeks to cut migrant deaths with safety training

  • February 12, 2020

Migrant labourers work at a construction site at Aspire Zone in Doha, Qatar, March 26, 2016. Workers in Qatar renovating a 2022 World Cup stadium have suffered human rights abuses two years after the tournament’s organisers drafted worker welfare standards in the wake of criticism, Amnesty International said. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

KATHMANDU, Feb 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In a bid to reduce migrant deaths in the Middle East and Asia, millions of Nepalis who work overseas will be given mandatory safety training before departure, officials said on Tuesday.

About 1,000 out of an estimated 4 million Nepali migrants die abroad each year, mainly in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Malaysia where most work as domestics and in construction. Migrant remittances makes up a quarter of impoverished Nepal’s GDP.

“The government is very much concerned about the rate of deaths of its migrant workers and is serious about reducing this,” Suman Ghimire, a spokesman for the labour ministry, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We are making orientation on how to safely work and live abroad – (like) basic occupational health and safety tips, … job specific training, insurance and communication skills – compulsory before the migrants leave.”

Each day, about three coffins containing the remains of dead migrants arrive at the “dead body claim” area in Nepal’s only international airport in its capital Kathmandu, according to airport officials.

The Supreme Court said in 2017 that 97% of deaths occurred in the Gulf and Malaysia and asked the government, which encourages young Nepalis to work overseas, to probe their causes and improve protection for workers.

The labour ministry’s Ghimire attributed migrant deaths to workplace hazards, such as machinery, traffic accidents and heat. Temperatures in the Gulf can exceed 40 degrees Celsius.

Stressed migrants – who are often illiterate and from remote villages in Nepal – also die from exhaustion, as they struggle to repay loans to unscrupulous recruitment agencies, and from drinking home-made liquor, activists say.

Ganesh Gurung of Nepal Institute of Development Studies said the government needed to find out why migrants die and do more to support their families.

“In most cases the death certificate, which is required for carrying the body back home, mentions the cause as cardiac arrest without proper postmortem,” he said.

Bereaved families rarely receive compensation from the Middle East or Malaysia, while Nepal only gives assistance of 700,000 rupees ($6,139) to the families of dead migrants who left the country with a work permit, Gurung said.

In the year to July 2019, about 750 families received this government aid, said Rajan Shrestha, head of the labour ministry’s Foreign Employment Promotion Board.

The families of thousands of undocumented workers who are trafficked through India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to unstable destinations like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are not entitled to any assistance if they die there, activists say.

“It is necessary to make foreign employment safe, dependable and free from exploitation,” said Gokarna Bista, a lawmaker who cracked down on abusive recruitment agencies when he served as labour minister for almost two years until late 2019.

“The recruitment process should be transparent and the terms of work, wages, insurance and compensation should be clearly mentioned in the labour agreements with destination countries.”