While scores of Nepalis working in the Gulf have found themselves entrapped in the Kafala system with their company denying them leave to attend funerals or visit relatives following the April 25 earthquake, some employers have shown genuine gestures of benevolence by helping their employees rebuild their devastated homes.
Manar Al Omran Co, a Saudi Arabia-based company that employs more than 1,000 Nepali workers, has decided to repair and rebuild the houses of its employees. A total of 96 Nepalis working in various branches of the company across Saudi Arabia have registered themselves as victims of the earthquake at the company’s request.
A representative for Manar Al Omran Co is currently in Nepal to assess the scale of devastation faced by the workers’ families during the tremors. Abdurrahman MD Akram of the company said two Nepali workers have lost their family members, while most others have been homeless.
Akram said he visited families of some of the workers in Dhading, Rasuwa and Lalitpur, but he could not meet other families living in far-flung areas.
“I came here at the request of my boss Maher Al Harbi. He intends to help them in rebuilding their homes and grant them a few months’ leave if they ask for it,” said Akram. The company is also checking the authenticity of the applications after workers from less affected districts like Dhanusha and Jhapa also signed up as victims.
The company has been sending workers on emergency leave by providing air tickets and pay. Bishnu Rana, who returned to Nepal shortly after the tremblor, said many others were waiting to return. Many wish to stay there as they cannot do anything by returning home without cash. “I will return to Saudi after building my house. Though the work is hard, I can earn something for my family,” said Rana of Kagate-5, Makwanpur.
Though workers like Rana are getting open-hearted support of their employer, many others are finding it hard even to get leave. Lila Nath Dahal, labour attaché at the Nepali Embassy in Doha, said many Nepalis in Qatar have sought legal recourse after their employers denied them leave.
Officials at Nepal’s embassies in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Malaysia and Kuwait told the Post that mostly big companies have granted workers leave. “It’s smaller companies that are unwilling to let them go home. After complaints, we have been personally requesting many of them,” said Ambika Joshi, second secretary at the Kuwait Embassy.
Rights groups, including the International Trade Union Confederation, had called for an end to the Kafala system to ensure easy mobility of Nepali migrant workers during this crisis and provide them leave with pay and advance salary.
An estimated 3.5 million Nepalis work across the Gulf and in Malaysia.