This is why the number of undocumented Nepali workers has grown, while others overstay their tourist visas. For employers, hiring undocumented workers can be cheaper as it relieves them from formal responsibilities like obtaining work permits or paying for monthly insurance which is costly in Turkey.
But when Covid-19 hit, undocumented workers found themselves in a tough spot. Many with jobs in the hospitality sector lost their jobs, rent became unaffordable, and sometimes up to 20 Nepalis were sharing one apartment. Irregular workers were ineligible for support from the government.
Ujjal Kumar Ghising, who heads NRNA Turkey estimates that there may have been up to 4,000 Nepalis in Turkey pre-COVID, but that number is decreased as many opted to return to Nepal. Others headed crossed over to Greece and into Europe. The devaluation of the Turkish lira added to the push factor.
Nepal does not have an embassy in Ankara, and it is the country’s embassy in Islamabad that is accredited to Turkey. With so many Nepalis here, growing trade and regular flights by Turkish Airlines, the absence of a diplomatic presence here is sorely felt.
“The Nepali consulate here is closed, and the NRNA tries to respond to the needs of Nepalis here, but there is only so much we can do,” says Ghising. “An official diplomatic presence here would be able to mobilise support for Nepalis from problematic placement officers or employers faster than we could.”
A task as simple as renewing a passport, for example, can be cumbersome as documents need to be sent to Islamabad, then Kathmandu and returned to Turkey.
In addition, the absence of a labour agreement with destination countries like Turkey is also a problem since there is a range of issues that require collaboration and regular dialogue between the two governments.
An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu (MoFA) acknowledged that Nepal and Turkey should forge closer ties, and have regular diplomatic dialogue. Nepal had sent a draft bilateral labour agreement to Ankara but progress has been stalled because of the pandemic.
“There are employment opportunities in Turkey, especially for female workers but the embassy in Pakistan has not been attesting job demand letters,” complains Sujit Shrestha of NAFEA (Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies). In 2019, 20 recruitment agencies in Kathmandu were engaged in deploying workers to Turkey.
The MoFA official interviewed for this report said that most job demands in Turkey are for Nepali caregivers, but provisions needed to be in place to ensure their safety via a bilateral labour agreement given the sensitivity of the sector.
However, Ghising of NRNA Turkey says that if the recruiting agency is responsible and partners with a reliable Turkish placement office, the chances are higher that the Nepali worker lands a good employer or receive help in case there are problems. There have been recent complaints of underpaid salaries and recruiters not responding to Nepali workers’ pleas for help.
But the lack of demand attestation by the embassy has not stopped some recruitment agencies from bypassing the rule and obtain individual labour approvals instead of having one from agencies that would make them jointly liable with employers for compensation.
Besides being an increasingly popular destination for Nepali workers, Turkey is also a transit for Nepalis wanting to cross into Europe – which is referred to as “the game”.
Ramesh is one Nepali who successfully completed his “game” to cross over to Greece, and then on to Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy over 50 days to finally land up in France where he is now.