When the Safety of Nepali Migrant Workers Fails: A Review of Data on the Numbers and Causes of the Death of Nepali Migrant Workers
A new ILO report reviews the scale and causes of deaths among migrant Nepali workers over the last seven years. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of data limitations and recommendations to improve data reporting on migrant fatalities and to better incorporate these findings into policy planning.
Though sourcing information from a number of official sources and informants, including the private recruiters and medical association providers, statistics from the report rely primarily on the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB) database. The database is limited to information from the relatives of deceased migrants who have requested compensation, and thus does not fully capture all migrant deaths abroad – particularly those of undocumented migrant workers.
Noting these limitations, the report aggregates the information that is available; in sum, 4,322 Nepali migrants died across 24 destination countries between 2008 and 2015 . 97% of Nepali migrants worker deaths occurred in the GCC and Malaysia, commensurate with the 98% migration rate to these countries.
According to the FEPB’s classifications, the major causes of deaths for migrants were cardiac arrest (21.8%) following by natural causes (19.6%), other/unidentified causes (18.4%), traffic accident (13.2%), suicide (10.4%), and workplace accidents (8.6%)
The report also found that:
- Most deaths attributed to ‘other/un-indentified’ took place in Malaysia and Qatar
- The largest number of deaths by cardiac arrests occurred in Qatar
- The largest number of deaths by 'natural causes' occurred in Saudi Arabia
Death by traffic accident was also particularly high in Saudi Arabia, with 60% of all traffic accident-related deaths from the country. Insufficient time allocated to road traffic safety during pre-departure orientation may factor into the reported general lack of road safety amongst Nepalis abroad.
Rights groups urged further investigation into migrant worker deaths following controversy over the reporting of migrant deaths; recent media coverage prompted both Nepalese authorities and employment countries, particularly Qatar, to downplay Nepali migrant worker death rates as ‘normal,’ in pace with average population death rates. Importantly, the report compares the death rates of working-age Nepalis and Nepalis abroad, finding no significant difference between the two. However, authors of the report stress that as Nepalis working abroad must pass stringent medical exams, they should actually be healthier than the population average. In particular, the high rates of cardiac arrests amongst the young, 15-34 age group that migrates for work in the GCC and Malaysia indicate that something ‘unnatural’ is indeed happening.
But current information gathering practices are too fragmented and unstructured to comprehensively assess causes of death; for instance, based on the example of the Saudi embassy’s practices, post-mortems are not conducted for either cardiac arrests or “natural causes” unless requested by the family of the deceased. Improved data collection is crucial to informing policy that could reduce the scale of migrant deaths.