With thousands of undocumented Nepali workers stuck in Iraq, Syria and Libya, the government has been issuing permits for migrants to work in war-ravaged countries without assessing the security situation and risks there.
Around 3,000 youths have left for war-hit nations of Asia and Africa in the last six months. The Department of Foreign Employment has issued permits to nearly 2,000 migrants to work in Afghanistan while about 1,000 permits were for African countries including Congo, South Sudan and Nigeria.
Afghanistan, a South Asian nation engulfed in a war against Taliban and Al-Qaeda for over a decade, is a popular destination among Nepalis for lucrative wages offered by NATO-allied ground forces and UN agencies. An estimated 20,000 Nepalis are working there. Though the 13-year American military engagement in Afghanistan is programmed to conclude by the end of 2016 with complete troop withdrawal, a sizeable number of Nepalis are still going there.
Birod Basnet, a Nepali working at Dyn Corps International in Afghanistan, said in an email to the Post that most Nepalis work in ‘green zones’ that face fewer security risks while many work in risky conditions outside.
At least seven Nepalis have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2011 in several attacks carried out by the Taliban. Most of the victims were working in UN camps as security guards. In July 2012, the government had to rescue 10 workers after they were taken hostage in a local town of Bagram.
Nepali migrants face similar “real” security challenges in African nations, partly hit by civilian unrests and terrorist organisations like Boko Haram. The recent outbreak of Ebola virus has put lives at risk. Some 25,000 Nepalis are supposedly working across Africa.
Keshav Bahadur, a migrant who recently returned from South Sudan following a civilian unrest, said many Nepalis work in Indian companies and international agencies.
Experts say it is sheer stupidity to officially allow more Nepali youths to go to war zones, while the government lacks both will and ability to rescue those stranded in Iraq, Syria and Libya. All the three countries are in grip of militia with the Islamic State overriding large Iraqi and Syrian territories.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which believes thousands of Nepalis are working in the countries, has said it is beyond its means and resources to rescue them in emergencies. Besides, Nepal does not have embassies in these labour destinations.
The Foreign Ministry pulled 11 Nepalis out of Iraq in July and 126 from Libya in August with the help of the Indian government and the International Organization for Migration.
The government has failed to bring in the body of Sunita Darji, a housemaid in the Syrian Capital of Damascus, in the past five months.
A recent ground assessment by a Foreign Ministry team estimates some 9,000 Nepalis to be working in Iraq, mostly in Kurdistan. Joint-secretary Arjun Kanta Mainali, who returned from Iraq recently, said the country is literally a trap for workers as it is hard for them to get out.
“It is not advisable to go there. It’s challenging to trace workers in Iraq, let alone rescue them,” said Mainali.
Foreign Employment Department officials said they have issued labour permits only for those countries opened by the government. “In Afghanistan, the permits are mostly for returnees working in the green zones,” said an official.