Barbara Weyermann, Programme Manager, Swiss Cooperation Office Nepal
“I have been promised NPR 40,000 for a job as butcher in Malaysia”, said Moinuddin Ansari to the counselor of the Information Center (IC) in a remote district of Nepal. “Actually, I am a tailor, I make around NPR 20,000 per month in my shop, but I thought I should not miss this opportunity.” Ansari had been asked by a local agent to pay NPR 150,000 for this job. The counselor explained that not only does the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) recommend a maximum of NPR 80,000 as pre-departure costs for a job in Malaysia, it was also not likely for a Nepali to earn more than NPR 20,000 in that country. Moreover, why would an agent ask a tailor to take a job as a butcher? Ansari left the IC, convinced that it was better to continue working in his tailoring shop in Nepal.
Fraud and deception of migrant workers is rampant in Nepal. No statistics exist as to how many of the 500,000 Nepalese who left the country in 2015 for mainly Malaysia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were cheated. Some observers estimate that as much as 30% of Nepali migrants may face serious problems during the migration cycle. Most migrants and their families are not sufficiently aware about protection measures before and during the contract period and where to lodge a complaint. Even if they know that complaints have to be filed at DoFE, they mostly don’t have the resources to travel to and stay in the capital city for an uncertain period of time with no guarantee that they will receive compensation.
The Government of Switzerland and the Government of Nepal (GoN) agreed to open Information Centers in 18 districts with high migration flows. The Safer Migration (SaMI) project started as a pilot in 2011 in two districts and was expanded in 2013, now including activities to ensure access to information, access to justice and access to psychosocial support for families left behind and migrants in distress; in addition, the project this year upscaled its efforts to provide vocational skills trainings to potential migrants from 1’000 per year to 10’000 per year. The project is implemented by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation and the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The Information Centers (ICs) are located either in or close to the premises of the district authorities and collaborate closely with the District Administration Offices where future migrants apply for passports. In some districts it is even mandatory to show the stamp from the IC for the DAO to accept the passport application. The IC visitors are briefed about the GoN policies regarding pre-departure costs and about potential traps when dealing with recruitment agencies.
The key messages of SaMI are spread through multiple channels: social studies teachers and Village Development Council (VDC) secretaries as well as social mobilizers of other projects are oriented and asked to refer people to the IC; FM stations broadcast on migration and SaMI social mobilizers talk to community groups. As the ICs collect the data of all their visitors, SaMI sends trained returnee migrants to the homes of these future migrants to ensure that they really understood the key messages.
People in need of services are identified through the network that SaMI has created in the districts. For example, the family of Ram Mandal: Ram worked in Malaysia in a factory but after about one year he suddenly died, the cause of his death was never clarified. The family was completely shattered and at a loss of what to do. They were referred to the IC by a teacher. The SaMI staff helped the family to collect all necessary documents and then linked them to PNCC, an NGO in Kathmandu with outreach workers in Malaysia and Qatar. PNCC assisted the family to finalize the paper work; four days later the body arrived in Nepal. PNCC also helped the family to request the outstanding salary from the employer in Malaysia and to apply for compensation from the GoN’s Welfare Fund and the insurance company. Although money does not compensate for the loss of a loved one, the almost CHF 10,000 which the family received with SaMI’s assistance helped them to cope with the loss of income.
Aman Puri was sent to Saudi Arabia as a driver but soon discovered that he had to work as a labourer on a road construction project. His wife contacted the IC which referred the case to the People Forum (PF) in Kathmandu. PF filed a complaint at DoFE and liaised with the Nepal Embassy in Saudi Arabia. Puri was able to return a month later and was reimbursed by the recruitment agency. This was also possible because he had kept copies of his passport, visa and contract at home. Without such documents, it is difficult to impossible to get redress. One of SaMI’s key messages thus is: Keep copies of vital documents with your family. Hardly anybody used to do that earlier and SaMI had difficulties to get cases resolved. Now, after two years of awareness campaigns, about 60% of the IC visitors have been found to follow the message.
Ram Mandal’s family and Aman Puri still had to travel to Kathmandu to complete the legal process. However, the time they had to spend in the city was much shorter thanks to the legal support they received from SaMI. SaMI also supports DOFE to establish a data management system that will enable people to submit applications for labour permits, deposit the contribution to the Welfare fund and file complaints from their home district.
SaMI has started discussions with the GoN to allow ICs to process the claims for compensation in case of death and disability. This would save people in very difficult situations a costly and stressful journey to Kathmandu.
Explaining use of smartphone app for safe migration
Counseling of potential migrant about safe migration
Community discussion about safer migration