Essay : ‘Migrant Workers in Pandemic and State Responsibility towards them’

Law Hub Nepal जेठ ३, २०७७
  • Rakshya Awasthi

At Present, The COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading at an alarming rate with an increasing records of patients throughout the world. Even the most powerful Countries in the world have become weak infront of the COVID-19. The most powerful states including China, Italy, UK, Spain have been affected a lot by this virus, with U.S.A. as the epidemic for maximum patients at present.

Our Country Nepal has also been affected by the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) and is facing the Lockdown since March 24, 2020. The COVID-19 which had been identified in Wuhan, China in 31st December, 2019 was declared as a Pandemic in 11th March, 2020 by the WHO. The first case of COVID-19 was seen in a 55-year-old from Hubei province, Wuhan, China. In the context of Nepal, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on 24th January, 2020 in a student who came back to Nepal from China.

Due to the COVID-19, Many activities have been disturbed. Various Educational Institutions have been closed. Nepal cancelled its international promotional activities related to Visit Nepal Year 2020. Its economy is expected to be severely affected by the pandemic due its impact on foreign employment, tourism, manufacturing, construction and trade. But still, The number of COVID-19 cases is increasing day by day which shows a scary scenario. Under these circumstances, it has become a matter of social responsibility to self isolate and respect all the public advice on social distancing. This can save lives while also help regain control of our societies.

Many people have taken to social media to promote #stayathome campaigns, while celebrities and political figures have used telecommunications means to reach people worldwide to urge them to stay at home. These rallying demands, however, have value only when the base point is that all people have a place of their own to isolate in. What about those vulnerable groups in the society?

Though the virus does not discriminate in the way it targets people, the defences that people have against the virus are highly dependent on whether or not they are socially excluded. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers (MRAs) are vulnerable people who, at times, do not have the means to protect themselves and others from the disease and from the disease’s aftermath. They lack access to health institutions and, if living in refugee camps and in reception centres, they live in close, confined spaces where social distancing is not possible. So what about their protection and state responsibility towards them during such a pandemic?

Migrant workers and their state:

Firstly, Let us know what a migrant worker is. A “migrant worker” is a person who either migrates within their home country or outside of it to pursue work. The “United Nations Protection on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families” has defined migrant worker as, “The person who is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national. “Due to lack of adequate job opportunities in Nepal, Many Nepalese youths are working in the foreign land as “Migrant Workers”.

Thousands of Nepalese youths are in the foreign land for education and other various purposes as well. The condition of COVID-19 infection is more dangerous to those Migrants in comparison to the people within territory of Nepal. 59 cases of COVID-19 has been found within Nepal’s territory till May 2, 2020 with 0 deaths. But outside the country, 33 Nepalese in U.K., 10 Nepalese in U.S.A., 2 Nepalese in U.A.E., 1 Nepalese each in Ireland, Japan, Turkey and Netherlands have died till the date.

Till present, there is no any exact record of the numbers of Migrant Workers outside Nepal. Government has estimated that about 5 million Migrant workers are outside the country. According to Foreign Ministry of Nepal, “The official record of migrant workers are : 1.5 million in India, 8 Thousands in China, 100,000 in Japan, 200,000 in the United States, 15,000 in Canada, 5,000 in Italy, 15,000 in Germany, 5,000 in Portugal, 5,000 in France, 150,000 in the United Kingdom, 17,000 in Oman, 15,000 in Iraq, 7 lakh in Malaysia, 1 lakh in Australia, 15 thousand in Spain, 35 thousand in Bahrain, 5 thousand in Thailand, 70 thousand in Kuwait, 15 thousand in Hong Kong, 5 thousand in Singapore, 42 thousand in South Korea, 12 thousand in Israel, 1,000 in Norway, 1,500 in Austria, 1,000 in Sweden and 25 in Iran.”

As the government has swung into action in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, its measures have gravely impacted thousands of people in the country whereas Nepali migrant workers have remained stranded in foreign labour destinations, and people living in poverty are scrambling to fulfil their basic needs.

Thousands of Nepali migrant workers in the Persian Gulf countries and Malaysia and also in India are now in dire situations as these countries have also imposed lockdowns and other public health measures spanning several weeks. They are facing a lot of physical, mental and social harassments as well. The adverse effect can be seen in their jobs, economy, Food and Residence. With the slowdown in economic activity and closure of some businesses in the labour destinations, many of these workers have now either lost their jobs, or are on unpaid leave, with inadequate access to basic necessities such as health care, food and accommodation.

Recently, a news of expellation of 200 Nepalese workers from their job in Qatar had been a highlighted one. According to those Qatari officials, “Nepali workers in the industrial sector had been expelled for ‘engaging in illegal and immoral activities’.” But according to Amnesty International, the workers have not been charged by authorities with any criminal activity. Similar problems are more likely to occur in other countries as well. In the UK, there have been reports of Nepalese being vandalized in parking lots and some Nepalese being physically and socially abused saying them Chinese. The United States has said it will stop immigrants. Other Countries are likely to do the same.

The labour market is affected by the current crisis, and within this, undocumented workers and migrant workers have been hit significantly harder. In Malaysia, Nepali workers are reportedly being forced to work despite a nationwide lockdown in place whereas others are struggling with limited income. In Qatar, migrant workers reportedly live in squalid and overcrowded spaces inside ‘corona virus prison’ and are being forced to work in crowded construction sites only increasing the risk of their exposure to the deadly virus. There is not any adequate stimulaton on health issues and not proper access to health facilities as well. The Embassy is also not providing meaningful intervention and the Migrant Workers are discriminated even for health cases.

In this time of Pandemic, state has not adequately protected the rights of migrant workers, whose contribution to the economy remains grossly forgotten. The economy of our country is hugely dependent on remittances. As remittance inflows have been the mainstay of Nepal’s external sector balance, the average ratio of remittance inflows to GDP in the last ten years has been 25 percent. Nepal Rastra Bank has stated in the public data of the first four months of the fiscal year 2076-77 that 75.3 percent of the total workers going for employment went to the Gulf countries.

According to the public report, the contribution of Nepali entering the Gulf countries to the inflow of remittances is 50.3 percent. According to the data for the first four months of the current fiscal year, most remittances came from Qatar. Remittances are the main source of livelihood for the families of most of the workers who have gone for foreign employment. Similarly, most of the foreign exchange inflows into Nepal are from remittances sent by migrant workers. The sudden decline in remittance arrivals creates problems not only in the kitchens of the workers’ families but also in the country’s economy. So, it’s the duty of the Nepal government to take care of all of these migrant workers who have such a great role in the economy of the country.

Nepali migrant workers, who faced entrenched patterns of abuse and ill-treatment in both Nepal and destination countries even before the global health pandemic, are experiencing greater hardship now. In this time of epidemic, Every country has called on its citizens to return home. Different countries have chartered planes to take their citizens back from Nepal to their own homeland. But, Nepal is facing an enormous challenge in trying to arrange the safe return and protection of thousands of those Nepalese migrant workers who are stranded in the border area between Nepal and India, and in other parts of the world. Bhutan, which is smaller in area than Nepal chartered two of its citizens who had been stuck in Nepal during this pandemic, but, our government has not been able to follow these steps.

The Nepali students studying M.B.B.S. in Bangladesh had also appealed the government to bring them back to the country in their own personal affordance. They also promised the government to volunteer in the present scenario but our government didn’t care even a bit of their appeal. Although the Supreme Court of Nepal has delivered an interim order to the government directing them to rescue stranded workers in vulnerable positions abroad but still there has been seen lack of the proper following of these actions by the government.

State Responsibility towards the Migrant Workers:

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families declared that “migrants and their families have a right to life and a right to medical care” which, it says, “shall be given irrespective of any irregularity with regard to stay or employment.” But bilateral agreements between origin and destination countries to protect the rights of labor migrants remain woefully incomplete. As Covid-19 democratizes the spread of sickness and death, Nepal, and every nation, should begin crafting a future for labor migrants that is dignified, humane, and safe. All workers should have access to sufficient accommodation facilities, including the facility to isolate themselves, as well as water and sanitation, so they can effectively protect themselves, in the countries where they are working. They should also have access to social security protections and financial support when they are unable to work because of the Covid-19 epidemic, including if they are sick or quarantined in these countries.

However, some provisions have also been brought for the Migrant workers which are:

1. If a worker having a valid labour permit dies of any reason while working abroad, their family receives financial assistance from the government. Therefore, if any Nepali worker dies of Covid-19, then the affected family will automatically be entitled to government support.

2. The board, which also works on policy interventions for the welfare of migrant workers, provides free vehicles to ferry bodies of the deceased. The family of a deceased worker receives Rs700,000 from the Migrant Workers Welfare Fund managed by the board.

Likewise, Any measures undertaken by the government in its fight against Covid-19 must be consistent with human rights, particularly the rights of marginalised groups and others who are particularly at risk in this context,” said Nirajan Thapaliya, director of the Amnesty International Nepal. Furthermore, the government should put in place measures to protect people whose health and livelihoods are at risk.

Nepali workers, returning from India, had to swim across the Mahakali River to enter the country after the Nepali authorities kept them out. A large number of Nepalese are having to work in India in environments rife with the risk of coronavirus infection. Nepali migrants who are stranded at the Nepal-India border are in an extraordinarily difficult situation. The Nepal government should urgently consider all steps possible to allow Nepali workers waiting at the international border to safely return home and ensure that they have the means to protect themselves from Covid-19 adequately and have equal access to health care once they are in Nepal.

Where needed, the government of Nepal must also request international cooperation and assistance from the international community to ensure that it is able to protect the health and livelihoods of people in an adequate and timely manner. Both sending and receiving countries can provide crucial support to migrants through social protection mechanisms, including social safety, net programs, employment retention policies and employment promotion policies. Social safety nets provide direct support either in the form of cash or in-kind goods and services to smooth consumption, compensate for higher prices, and prevent falls into poverty.

Governments could consider three options. First is the eligibility for existing safety net programs can be expanded to address the challenges facing migrants. Second, programs newly created in response to COVID-19 can be implemented without regard to migration status. Third, new programs can be created to help migrants address the distinct challenges they face. These include providing virus testing and treatment, food and accommodations, transportation assistance, and cash grants.

Employment retention policies incentivize employers to maintain their workforce either through deductions in social insurance contributions, as is being done in China, or through employment subsidies, as we are seeing in Korea. These policies can cover the entire workforce, but be implemented with a focus on preventing the displacement of migrant workers.

Moreover, it is very likely undocumented migrants will not go to hospital if they contract Coronavirus, due to the risks of data being shared with immigration authorities or the fear of being reported to the police. In some countries, like in the UK, is also due to the high costs of using the national health service. At the same time, some governments are taking measures to remove barriers to accessing healthcare services for undocumented people, and/or regularise them as in Portugal.

The Ministry of Foreign Affair, should ask the Nepalese embassies in each country to collect data and assist the Non-Resident Nepali Associations in different countries. The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister also should held talks with their counterparts in the Gulf countries including India, Australia, Korea, Japan and the United States. We have to try to find a solution through an effective manner. Similarly, the Non-Resident Nepali Association has said that 70 percent of the citizens are willing to return to Nepal. Nepalese may have gone to different countries in context of various works. They should quickly bring homeless workers to Nepal as soon as possible. It is not good for the government to shirk its responsibilities after seeing and hearing the news of all of it’s citizen as it’s the duty of the government to protect the life and dignity of it’s citizens and protect the rights of it’s citizens.

The Finance Minister should include in the next budget a program to increase employment opportunities in Nepal, provide grants and relief packages, provide easy access to loans in Nepal and develop their skills. If there is willpower, millions of rupees can be earned in Nepal by raising livestock, growing grains and cultivating fruits. World Health Organization has said that it will take at least one year for invention of vaccine against corona and take time of about 2 years to reach it within all and people have to maintain social distancing till 2021.

In conclusion, after the Spanish Flu that occured a century ago and killed a millions of people, this COVID-19 is another pandemic which has brought fear among all. The only way to avoid this virus is to maintain social distancing and follow a healthy lifestyle. So, at this instance, it’s the duty of the govrnment to take care of the life of its citizens and not be involved in any political arguments. It’s a time when the government has to fulfill it’s role as the guardian of the state and create a healthy environment to fight against the pandemic.

(Author Awasthi is studying BALLB first semester in National Law College.)

This essay has won the third position in the national level online essay competition organized by the Far Western Law Students Society. The best essays in the competition have been published by Law Hub Nepal.

The Far Western Law Students Society is a common organization for students of Far Western province studying law in various campuses across the country. It aims to provide legal aid through social awareness and to develop the personality of law students by organizing various creative programs.

At present, the global corona pandemic is endangering the lives and livelihoods of Nepali migrant workers. The society has decided that the state should play an important role towards migrant workers. Therefore, this competition was organized with the intention of assisting the state through the ideas of law students. – Editor)


तपाईंको प्रतिक्रिया व्यक्त गर्नुहोस् ।