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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Nepalis continue to favor working in Qatar, despite tales of hardship

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar’s second largest demographic group is expected to only grow larger in the coming years, a senior Nepali official has said. Speaking to the Qatar Tribune this week, Harihar Kant Poudel, Second Secretary at the embassy, said:

“Among the GCC countries, Qatar tops the list in terms of employing Nepali immigrants and we expect the number to rise further in the forthcoming years.”

The climbing numbers, due to Qatar’s growing need for construction workers ahead of the 2022 World Cup, are despite increasing media attention on the Nepali community here. The group is reportedly 400,000 and climbing, and second in size only to the Indian expat population.

After the embassy reported a record number of deaths of Nepali expats last July, Poudel told Doha News that working conditions played a big role:

“Many workers are going without meals, and without enough water, then they are working in high temperatures all day. The weather here is different from our country. Our nationals are not used to it.”

Growing applicant pool

Still, despite tales of hardship endured by some low-income workers in the region, throngs of men can be seen lining up at manpower agencies in Nepal to find work in the Gulf, the Guardian reports this week from Kathmandu:

According to the department’s figures, the number of migrants leaving annually has almost doubled in the last five years to almost 400,000. And despite the stories of horrific suffering faced by migrants abroad, many here are returning to jobs they have held for years – a sign of the lack of opportunities in Nepal and the fact that for many Nepalese, migration works.

Speaking to Doha News, Aakash Jayaprakash, a migration and human rights specialist who is involved in labor issues here, said the enthusiasm may have to do with asymmetric information, a problem facing all migrant demographic groups.

“The number of recruitment agencies and sub- agents who peddle hopes of high salaries in the Gulf is far higher than the people who try to disseminate the realities on the ground.

Once a person has paid a significant fee to these recruitment agencies, they are already committed to go to the Gulf. How can they change their minds once the family land has been sold to pay the 100,000 Nepali rupees to the recruitment agent?”

He added that many migrants who choose to return to Qatar and other Gulf states do so because they may not want to admit to their families and communities that they were cheated out of their dream to make lots of money and be successful. He added:

“Further to this, even if I am aware of instances of exploitation in Qatar, if someone promises me a large salary, gives me a very convincing contract and then raises my hope that I can support my children and family, how can I say no to this? Maybe someone else got tricked because they were not too clever, but I am confident I will make it.”

According to Poudel, the problems faced by many working-class expats do not stem from the Gulf governments, but rather from “middlemen.”

Unscrupulous labor agents often cause headaches by making promises to Nepali expats that they can’t keep, he said, adding: “Officials of the two government must sit together to find ways of tackling such labor problems.”

Improving relations

Speaking to Doha News this morning, Poudel said that Nepal-Qatar relations have improved in the wake of growing media attention on labor conditions here.

“Our agencies and the government of Qatar are very serious on this matter. We are getting appointments with dignataries of the country, and they are giving (us a) good response…We are now feeling happy.”

Among the senior level officials who have reached out to the embassy to address labor relations are the country’s attorney general and the head of the Ministry of Interior’s Search and Follow-Up Department, which tracks absconding workers, he said.

Meanwhile, the embassy continues to await a new ambassador. Its former head, Dr. Maya Kumari Sharma, was recalled by the Nepali government in September, less than than halfway into her appointment over dissatisfaction with her diplomatic performance.

Thoughts?

Note: This article has been corrected to reflect Poudel’s title as Second Secretary, and not acting head, of the embassy.

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