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A View from Nepal: People on the Move

On October 22, 2009

Nepal is rapidly establishing itself as a major sender of migrant labour to the Middle East. Every year, tens of thousands of Nepali citizens travel to countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia to work as maids, construction workers or for other manual labour. Around 2.6 million Nepalis work overseas, the majority of them in Gulf countries.

If you travel to Nepal, it won't take you long to realise the impact that the growing phenomenon of overseas migration is having on Nepali society. Speak to any taxi driver, tailor or waiter and you will probably find that they've got friends and relatives working in the Middle East. In some villages, every household has a son working in the Gulf States or the Far East, and it is even possible to find a handful of communities in hill areas where there are virtually no men to be found because they have gone abroad for work.

Take a look at advertisements and shop-fronts in an average Nepali town, and you'll come to understand that Nepalis are increasingly becoming geared-up towards going abroad for work. Signs for cheap phonecalls to Gulf countries, advertisements for manpower agencies and a whole host of other services for the would-be migrant worker - or for their families -are constantly springing up.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its economy is sluggish after a a decade-long Maoist insurgency. A lack of employment opportunities means that going to the Middle East for work is often the only hope that the younger generation have to make a decent living for themselves or their families. It's only in the past couple of years that the Nepali establishment itself has realised how important migrant labour has become for the country. Remittances from migrant workers 'have, largely unnoticed, propped up the country' according to one academic.

There are strong signs that Nepal is following in the footsteps of the Philippines, one of the world's largest senders of migrant labour. In the Philippines, around 10% of the population works overseas, and the money that migrant workers send back home holds the country's fragile economy together.

Nepalis have a word for soldiers going abroad to serve in foreign armies as paid mercenaries - Lahure. This comes from the days of the British Empire, when Lahore in Pakistan was the headquarters of the army. Today Nepal has a new kind of lahure, the migrant man or woman working hard for their living in a foreign land, most commonly somewhere in the Gulf - the Arab ko lahure. These workers are changing not only their own destinies by migrating to the Gulf for work, but potentially that of Nepal itself.

Internet cafe advertising cheap calls to Middle Eastern countries

Internet cafe advertising cheap calls to Middle Eastern countries

Arabic translation services for would-be migrants

Arabic translation services for would-be migrants