The government’s much touted scheme to use the Foreign Employment Welfare Fund (FEWF) to pay for the tickets of really desperate workers has not worked. So far, only 86 workers from Malaysia have received support under this scheme. The government has also not made any arrangement to use its own Covid-19 relief budget to support stranded undocumented workers who are the ones most in need of help but are ineligible for the FEWF supported scheme as they did not contribute to it.
Meanwhile, undocumented Nepali workers in Lebanon who had paid US$800 for tickets home in March are still stuck there because of cancelled flights. Repatriation flights from Beirut by Nepal Airlines were announced, but never happened.
Most of those stranded in Lebanon are female household workers, who have also been affected by Lebanon’s faltering economy, especially after the Beirut blast last month.
Said one of them: “As stay-out domestic workers, we do not get cleaning jobs as often anymore. And no one has come forward to help in the midst of this pandemic, the economic crisis and the blast.”
The root of the problem is the high cost of the limited number of flights, and the month-by-month schedule which makes it difficult for employers to organise the paperwork for returning workers. An embassy official says missions do not have a role anymore on who gets on a plane. The travel agencies and the airlines decide, based on the daily airport arrival quota in Kathmandu, which means the most desperate workers cannot get home.
Some employers who were earlier willing to pay for repatriation are now proposing cost-sharing with workers because the fares are higher than normal. But many of the workers have been unemployed for six months, and have run out of savings.
Says a Nepali worker involved in the protest in Riyadh on Tuesday: “We staged the protest out of desperation because no one was paying any attention to us. Our video went viral, but we don’t just want people to like and share it, we want to be rescued and brought home as soon as possible.”
Read also: Nepali workers returning to India, Upasana Khadka