From the Nepali Press
Janak Raj Sapkota in Nepal, 25 January
Bhawana and Mandir Nembang still remember the day when their older brother Shree Bahadur Nembang left for Qatar. The country was in the middle of a civil war and Nembang was among the many that had left their villages to find better opportunities abroad. As it was time to leave and Bhawana and Mandir started crying, Shree Bahadur had promised his younger siblings that he’d return soon. Fifteen years later, the two are still waiting.
On 9 September 2004, three years after he landed in Qatar, Shree Bahadur was admitted to Hamad Hospital following an accident. He then fell into a coma and has not recovered ever since. The loan Shree Bahadur had taken to go to Qatar has multiplied four times over with interest, and the family now owes more than Rs 400,000. “We have no hope of our brother returning nor do we have any means to pay off the debt,” says Mandir. “All our happiness ended with that one incident,” adds Bhawana.
The Nembang family has suffered even more since Shree Bahadur left to find work. Mandir and Bhawana’s parents passed away over the course of waiting for Shree Bahadur to return. And although both the siblings welcome the return of their brother, the process of bringing him back home isn’t that easy.
“Until and unless we can provide the same level of service in government hospitals here, it will be too risky to bring the patients here,” says Raghu Raj Kafle of the Foreign Employment Promotion Board.
Many migrant workers who are comatose and admitted in hospitals abroad have no recourse of being sent back to Nepal. The government does not keep proper records on the number and location of the patients. Some of the comatose workers are yet to be identified.
After pressure mounted from other countries to take back the patients, a government committee was formed to investigate migrant workers in foreign hospitals. The committee found 16 comatose Nepalis in Qatar alone. It has presented a report on what can be done to bring back comatose Nepalis to the Foreign Ministry, and has concluded that the patients need to be shifted to government hospitals here.
Since an air ambulance is required to transfer the patients and payment needs to be made for all the hospital bills, Nepali embassies abroad do not prioritise sending Nepali patients back home. Most afflicted families do not have the means to pay the steep bills. Although Qatar has said it would provide a medical team and an air ambulance to transfer the patients, government hospitals here are ill-equipped to receive them.
Though there is public outcry to open well-equipped government hospitals that would take care of the patients, it is not clear as to who should take responsibility for all the costs. “We cannot bring the patients without paying the bills,” says Kafle. “Who should bear the bills, the embassies or the families? This problem isn’t easy to solve without proper policies in place.”
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