Nepalis nightmare in the Gulf

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Jul 27 2007

I read this story about a Nepali student returning from US and what he went through when he saw hundreds of his compatriots being badly treated at the airport.... MUST READ.

By Tulsi Bhandari

Last month, Nepal’s newspapers were awash with reports of hundreds of Nepali workers in Qatar being driven from the country for demanding better pay from their employers. When I was on my way home from the United States, I was a witness to a harsh reality: the Gulf Airlines staffers treating their customers – the deported Nepalis – like animals in a dingy hell called Bahrain, where I had my stopover before flying to Kathmandu.

When I arrived at the Bahrain International Airport after about 14 hours of flight from New York, I was told that the flight to Kathmandu had been delayed for about six hours. I was taking rest in a tiny room, while, at the same time, observing peoples outside.

The desperate situation of the passengers waiting for their flights was pathetic. I talked with a few people, and listening to their stories wasn’t easy. Some had been stranded there for more than three days. I was quite keen to meet a few Nepalis, but listening to their stories made me furious.

There were hordes of poor Nepalis waiting for their flight to return home. Obviously, they had to sell their properties and take loans to get to the Gulf. They told me that they came through a manpower agency called Agni. But only after they got to their destination, they knew that they had been deceived as they were going to be paid only half of what they were promised back in Kathmandu. When they raised their voice, the employer, with the help of the police, put them (around 300) behind bars and later deported some while others still languish in the jail.

Owing to the flight delay, the passengers were provided with lunch coupons by the airline. The restaurant got overly crowded beyond its capacity. Passengers were in a queue for about an hour to get their turn to eat. The restaurant staff treated them in a way as if they were the beggars. It looked as if they were criminals, pushed by the restaurant staff to line up.

By the time we got the turn to enter the restaurant, there was an announcement for boarding the plane to Kathmandu. Soon, everyone was seen rushing to get into the plane. The airline staff looked angry, used awfully rude language and pushed them.

I was really upset and angry about the whole situation. I couldn’t really tolerate such behavior towards my Nepali brothers especially, who already had gone through enough suffering. I told the Gulf Air staff my disappointment. “I am really upset how you treat your customers,” I said to him. “They are not animals; you should give some respect to them.”

The staff freaked out, yelled at me and pulled me out from the line. He said he won’t let me in to the plane. I tried to calm him down, but he didn’t budge. He called the police and I was asked with two questions - if I was an American citizen, and whether I was holding an American passport. After my answer the way they treated me I wonder if being a Nepali was a sin. Since I was studying in the United States, the police told me that he would let me go if I made an apology to the Gulf Air staff. I refused, only to let my ordeal worsen.

I was then taken to a tiny stinky room, full of smoke. It had already been 24 hours of travel. I didn’t know what they – all speaking Arabic – were doing and going to do with me. One policeman who could speak little English just told me that they could even take me to the jail. “It’s a Muslim country and we have very strict laws,” he said. They had already seized my passport and boarding pass. I was going home after two years. I hoped my 79-year-old father wasn’t waiting for me in Katmandu airport, after hours of walk and another ten hours of bus from his village.

After about two hours, clueless, I was handed over to two big guys in civil dress. One guy with beard was dressed in typical Arabic style with white gown and another looked like a big wrestler. They loaded me inside a car, were speaking loud in Arabic, and laughing. I asked the second guy if he was a cop but he said he wasn’t. It was extremely hot and they drove towards the inner city. Clueless about where I was taken, I got really worried and scared when they passed the city and drove towards a desert. All thoughts started haunting me- are they going to kill me? I looked around the car to find out if they were armed, but didn’t see anything as such.

It was a great relief after the car entered into a hospital. I went through an alcohol test. They looked upset after the result came clean. I was drove back to the airport and one police officer said that they were going to release me and put me in the next plane to Kathmandu. They put me inside the same tiny room for next two hours. Then the same Arabic-dressed guy drove me to a police station and handed me back to the police. I thought I might have to see the officer there and explain the situation. But I was asked to take out all of my belongings, wallet, money. They counted the money, made a list and asked me to sign. Later, they locked me inside the tiny room with three other people, who were from Sri Lanka.

The trio was arrested three months ago after being cheated by a manpower company that issued them fake visa. I didn’t know what was going on. We were given some bread and lentil soup. Even though I was starving, I didn’t feel like eating. Everybody started snoring, I couldn’t sleep all night. In the morning, I was called by the senior officer at the station. I told him my story, he looked little sympathetic. They made my report and I was taken to the court. I was put inside a room and locked up with 12 other people who were also waiting to see the judge. After about two hours, I was called by the judge, to whom I narrated my story. He said I would be fined and started doing my paperwork. Later, I was fined 50 Dinar (about 130 US dollars).

Had I refused to pay the fine, I would have been jailed for a week. Being left with no choice, I paid the fine. I was taken to the airport but there wasn’t a flight for Kathmandu till next morning. I was handed over to the immigration staff. They took my passport and I was put inside another tiny detention center with six other people, one of whom had been there for almost a month. Here the police guard seemed quite sympathetic who let us go to the restroom, asked if we need to eat. It was again a very difficult night to spend. Finally, in the morning I was escorted by the police to the plane and after about six hours of flight landed in Kathmandu.

The experience that I have gone through made me think hard if an educated person like me had to go through such a terrible treatment what the other poor Nepalis who are forced to leave the country might be going through. I don’t know what the Nepalese consulates can do when we are treated like animals

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East