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Tue 6 Jun 2017 02:37 PM

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Nepal 'failing' to protect migrant workers in Gulf

Amnesty says country isn't enforcing laws designed to protect workers from being charged exorbitant fees that leave them trapped in jobs overseas

Nepal 'failing' to protect migrant workers in Gulf
Window washers from Nepal return to ground after working on the curved facade of the Tornado Tower in Doha, Qatar. (Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

Nepal is failing to enforce laws designed to protect migrant workers from being charged exorbitant fees that leave them crippled by debt and trapped in jobs overseas, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

More than 400,000 migrants workers leave Nepal every year for work abroad, mostly in the Gulf and Malaysia. Their remittances back home make up nearly 30 percent of the impoverished country's GDP.

The government in 2015 banned employment agencies from charging job seekers the cost of the plane ticket and work visa, shifting the burden to the employer, and capped agent fees at 10,000 Nepali rupees ($96).

But in its new report "Turning People into Profits", Amnesty said it failed to find a single worker who had not been forced to cover these costs.

"It is abundantly clear that the "Free Visa, Free Ticket" policy is not being implemented or enforced properly," said James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Global Issues programme.

"Despite some bright ideas, a lack of political will combined with bureaucratic inertia means that businesses are still effectively free to exploit migrants."

Amnesty interviewed 127 migrant workers who said they were forced to pay an average $1,346 to agents for jobs abroad. Many said they were often deceived about the nature of the work they were being offered.

Ram Sundar Yadav said his employer in Malaysia locked him in a room for 15 days when he refused to perform duties outside his contract.

"He said that unless I did as he asked he would not return my passport or give me food. He said he would jail me," Yadav said.

The 27-year-old managed to return home after nine months with the help of the Nepali government, but could not repay the $1,552 loan he took to travel abroad. 

"The attitude of recruiters is about buying and selling people. And our people end up being abused, because the government does not prevent them from being traded like cattle," said Suresh, another worker interviewed for the report.

Amnesty said more than 2,000 cases were filed by migrant workers against recruitment agencies in Nepal last year, but only four have so far been refered for prosecution.

The Nepali government needed to better enforce measures to stop recruitment agencies from "making quick money off the back of poor people's futures", Lynch said.