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Nepal's Challenge: Documenting Missing Migrants in the Middle East

On March 31, 2011

The Nepali government has had some difficult lessons to learn from the crises in Libya and Japan. A lack of reliable data proved a major stumbling block in its attempts help stranded citizens in recent weeks, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has admitted that consular staff wasted a lot of time ' trying to locate people.' The Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have since announced plans to compile an official database of Nepali migrant labourers so that the 'information gap' will not leave citizens cut off from support in emergencies.

Some figures on labour migration exist in Nepal, but data is patchy and does not take into account the huge numbers of Nepalis who migrate to the Middle East and East Asia through unofficial/illegal channels.

We often receive requests from readers and journalists asking for data on migrant labourers in the Middle East. The problem is that very little data has been compiled by sending countries, and that the figures which exist are unreliable at best. We see the Nepali government's move to prepare a database of migrant workers as a step in the right direction, and hope that they will pay adequate attention to the groups of people that are most likely to migrate through unofficial channels, especially women traveling illegally to the Middle East to work as housemaids.

Below is an extract from an article in the Himalayan Times by Leknath Pandey:

Yesterday, Chief Secretary Madhav Prasad Ghimire called Foreign Secretary Dr Madan Kumar Bhattarai and Labour Secretary Dinesh Hari Adhikari, among others, at his office and directed them to prepare a database of Nepali migrant workers immediately.

“During rescue efforts in Libya, we spent a lot of time locating our people,” said an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), who attended yesterday’s meeting. “We faced a similar ordeal in Japan.”

The meeting formed a taskforce for database preparation with MoFA Joint-Secretary Dhananjaya Jha and Purna Chandra Bhattarai, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Transport Management (MoLTM), as members.

Executive Director of the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB) Sthaneshwor Devkota admitted neither government nor outsourcing agencies have complete and credible statistics on the Nepalis working in the Gulf. “With half the migrant workers undocumented, we are finding it hard to compile their data,” said Devkota. Women working in the Gulf are mostly undocumented, as most of them fly to the region as domestic workers through illegal channels. The official channel is MoLTM and Department of Foreign Employment Department (DoFE). DoFE has record of only 23,000 women of 2,00,000 believed to be working in the Gulf.

The government is monitoring Nepalis working in Gulf countries amid protests in Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia. With martial law imposed in Bahrain, migrant workers’ troubles have increased.

Foreign Secretary Bhattarai said the taskforce will collect details of the Nepalis and store it in a website. “The record will be helpful in rescuing migrant workers during emergencies,” said Dr Bhattarai.

Full story here.