During the first two months of lockdown when foreign embassies in Kathmandu were rounding up their last remaining nationals to fly home from Nepal, there were some who refused to be repatriated. They are still here, and they want to stay put.
Immigration Department records show there are still 2,000 tourists who have been in Nepal since March. But over 250 of them from 50 countries have appealed through a Facebook group for the Nepal government to extend their visa permits till December.
Some chose not to risk infection by travelling long-distances to go back home where conditions were sometimes much worse. Expensive repatriation flights did not help matters.
“Until now Nepal has been among the safest countries from COVID-19 crisis and it is safer to stay where people are right now,” says Australian Brett Adamek, admin of the Pokhara Noticeboard Facebook group. “Long-distance travel is daunting and dangerous especially when many tourists are elderly. If allowed to stay on, everyone is happy to pay for the extension.”
Many of the foreigners staying in Nepal are not just enjoying an extended holiday, they are trying to help increase awareness about preventive measures against COVID-19, raise money for feeding programs, assist in charities, or help farmers with new ideas to raise productivity.
In June, the Department of Immigration announced that the stranded tourists would have to pay extra visa fee for overstaying due to the pandemic. After outrage on social media, the Home Ministry revised the decision and said extension and overstay fees as well as fines would only be levied 15 days after the resumption of international flights.
“As of now we are still going by the decision to allow 15 days after resumption of international flights for foreigners to leave the country. But we are expecting a new directive from the government in a few days,” says Madhusudan Bhattarai of the Department of Immigration. The Department itself has been sealed because a staff tested positive for COVID-19.
But many of the foreigners who are located across the country from Ilam, Manang, Pokhara, Jomsom, Khumbu and Kathmandu say they want to remain in Nepal till December, and have promised to be in their best behaviour.
Like Adamek, many of the foreigners who found themselves in Nepal when the flights were grounded in March, are nomads travelling around the world for years, and do not really have a ‘home country’ to get back to. Adamek himself is Australian but has been travelling across Asia for years, spending 15 years in Nepal and India.