The cabinet has said the government will sponsor air tickets for those whose companies haven’t come forward to send them back home.
With the pandemic grinding economies to a halt, it is expected that countries like Nepal, which has traditionally been an exporter of migrant labour, will see many of its citizens returning home. Some estimates have pegged this number at nearly half a billion. So far only 35,000 Nepalis from the Gulf and Malaysia have returned home on 220 flights and it has been a slow and gruelling wait for the rest.
But even those who have returned are people who are able to pay for their own tickets. There are thousands of workers who are stranded in foreign countries with no jobs since the start of the pandemic. Many have barely any money left for their day to day survival let alone hundreds of dollars for air fare. Their employers have long since washed their hands off them and many haven’t been paid their pending dues. Nepali missions abroad are being inundated with thousands of requests from its stranded citizens to be rescued from their circumstances and sent back home.
@EquidemN's @r_nepal spoke to @kathmandupost about the welcome migration worker repatriation guidelines issued by the Nepal government. He also expressed concerns on possible challenges in ensuring support to the stranded Nepalese workers abroad. https://t.co/y0JuvPAkeo #COVID19— Equidem Nepal (@EquidemN) July 24, 2020
Recently, the country’s Supreme Court ordered the government to use the Migrant Workers’ Welfare Fund to bring back such workers. The Cabinet soon approved guidelines to sponsor the return of those who had emigrated on valid labour permits. This will entitle those who have received no support from their employers to aid from the government. Those who have already returned and meet the criteria will be reimbursed. But the government hasn’t yet announced when these new guidelines will come into force. And there are bound to be challenges in its implementation.
The process of verifying eligibility could be a drawn-out and tedious process according to experts. First the worker has to fill out an application with the mission. Then his/her details are cross-checked with the recruiting agency. Then it is ascertained if they have received due compensation from their employers and whether they are willing to pay for their return flights. Only after this are the tickets issued. A delay by even one person along this chain would simply add to distress of the worker. And even during normal times, Nepali missions are understaffed and stressed. This process will only further burden the system, potentially dragging out the repatriation process for months.