4 days, 4 scenes

Nepal and Israel sign an ‘implementation protocol’ agreement for the recruitment of 500 caregivers in Israel.

Thursday, 21 January

Nepal and Israel signed an ‘implementation protocol’ agreement for the recruitment of 500 caregivers in Israel.  The government-to-government deal that excluded recruiters itself was signed in September.

In 2009, Israel stopped recruiting Nepalis after migrant workers were found to be paying hefty fees to recruiters for lucrative job opportunities in Israel. It was reopened in 2015 under a pilot Nepal-Israel agreement that sent about 80 workers.

The new agreement will place Nepalis as auxiliary workers in old-age shelters and not private homes, and they can earn as much as Rs200,000 a month. Nepal’s Ambassador to Israel Anjana Shakya lobbied for the agreement which has a higher preference for women workers because there are more female elderly in Israel, and they prefer caregivers from the same gender.

Israeli Ambassador to Nepal Hanan Goder says the agreement can help transform the lives of Nepali women and their families. Goder says he will meet the workers pre-departure and assure them that they will enjoy all labour rights just like Israeli citizens.

Ambassador Shakya is hopeful that the current quota of 500 can be expanded as there is demand for caregivers and other jobs in Israel. She says recruitment should be transparent and workers should not get charged illegally and Nepali migrants should not overstay their visas in Israel. However, she says there are already cases of middlemen charging workers for jobs. She says: “This should be stopped with strict regulation.”

“Life is full of laughter and happiness, you can grow gold in Nepal itself if you work hard.” Life returned in a coffin and a suitcase.

Saturday, 23 January 

There is a coffin with the word ‘Fragile’ alongside a drag-on luggage in the back of a pickup. Painted on the truck’s bumper are the words: हाँसी खुसी जिन्दगी चल्छ, मेहनत गरे नेपालमै सुन फल्छ (Life is full of laughter and happiness, you can grow gold in Nepal itself if you work hard.)

The pathos and irony of the photograph made it viral on Nepali social media. The body was among 18 coffins repatriated from Malaysia on Saturday. The 19th was just the ashes of Bir Bahadur Tamang from Nijgad.

Dinbandhu Subedi at the Foreign Employment Board explained there was a backlog of bodies because smaller Nepal Airlines jets could not carry enough coffins home. Finally, a wide-body Airbus 330 was used to fly the coffins out. There are still 16 bodies left to be brought back from Malaysia.

There are over 380,000 documented Nepali workers in Malaysia, the largest overseas destination for Nepalis. There have been 628 deaths in Malaysia in the last 12 years, the highest number of fatalities among countries with Nepali migrant workers.

Out of the 656 deaths of Nepali workers overseas in 2019/20, 176 were in Malaysia, the highest, followed by Saudi Arabia (151) and Qatar (115). The main causes were officially listed as cardiac arrest, ‘natural causes’, and suicide.  

These deaths have become mere statistics. For the airlines, the coffins are just cargo.

Recruitment companies stage a protest in front of the Department of Foreign Employment (DOFE).

Sunday, 24 January 

Nepal’s recruitment companies staged a protest in front of the Department of Foreign Employment (DOFE) on Sunday, submitting a 21-point demand that included compensation for migrant workers who have returned prematurely during the pandemic.

The Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA) wants compensation to be decided on a case-by-case basis. DOFE set up a 7-member joint taskforce to address the demands, and Director General Kumar Prasad Dahal said that while some of the demands may be reasonable, there is malpractice in the industry which will not be tolerated.

The same day, reports surfaced that Nepalis had joined the Qatari Police bypassing DOFE approval by travelling via India. A row broke out in November when Qatari officials were found conducting interviews for security jobs without permission from DOFE as required by the law.

Labour Minister Gauri Shankar Choudhary.

Monday, 25 January 

DOFE’s Monitoring Team conducted a sting operation on Kalyan Security Private limited in Sina Mangal. the very next day, newly appointed Labour Minister Gauri Shankar Choudhary (pictured) has allowed another company, SOS Manpower which had been suspended for conducting interviews for Qatar without official approval, to resume operations.

While one hand of the government apprehends those cheating workers, politicians set them free. Loopholes, a powerful trans-national nexus, vested interests and the desperation of migrants for jobs overseas drives recruiters to figure out new ways to squeeze workers who will do anything for a better future.

Kushal Baral of the Monitoring Team took part in the raid on Monday and seized applications forms for Qatar Police. We asked Baral how long before he gets transferred from DOFE. It will not be the first time an honest bureaucrat or politician posing a threat to easy money-making is removed.

Baral replied matter-of-factly: “It is not under my control. Until then, I will continue to do what I can.”

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