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.