Purna was on the priority list of the Nepal Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, but that has not made a difference because he cannot afford the air fare anyway. After a Supreme Court verdict last week, the Nepal government is finalising a directive to bear the cost of the most desperate workers using funds from the Foreign Employment Welfare Fund.
Purna is cautiously optimistic: “I am hopeful, but not depending on it.”
When the airlift started on 15 June, many of the initial scheduled flights had to be cancelled because of confusion over the government’s directive that all passengers needed PCR of RDT negative test certificates before boarding. Returnees from Malaysia, Bahrain and Oman had tests, whereas those from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait took the more unreliable RDT. Those with PCR were allowed to go to home quarantine on arrival, but the RDT passengers were made to undergo facility based quarantine in Kathmandu.
Manish who worked at a market in Muscat had a ticket to Kathmandu for 18 June, and was excited about finally returning. But he was shocked to find that he, along with 20 other passengers, were positive, and could not get on the flight. “I had lost my sense of smell, but had no other symptoms,” said Manish, who is disappointed but also glad he was detected early. “It is not just about me, it is about those I would have traveled with or my family members.”
Nine of the women who returned from Kuwait last week also tested positive on arrival in Kathmandu, even though they had tested negative in Kuwait. Workers stuck in the Maldives had to just undergo thermal tests before boarding, and had to sign a pledge to go into facility quarantine in Nepal.
Ganesh is among the 720 Nepalis stranded in the Maldives, who has spent a week in a hotel in Kathmandu after arrival, but is still waiting for his PCR test. “We are staying in an overpriced hotel with sub-standard facilities,” says Ganesh who is bearing the cost of the hotel and is unsure when this turn for testing will come.
But those in hotels realise they are luckier than those in government facilities in their hometowns. Returnees have to pay the bus fare to take them back to home districts, and the journeys last four times longer because drivers try to fit in as many passengers a possible from different districts in the same province.
“We have nausea, hunger, and they are stingy about toilet breaks,” complained Rama, a Kuwait returnee, “they treat us like animals that they just need to cram in the bus.”
Rita from Morang is pregnant, and was among the undocumented workers in Kuwait who took up the government’s offer of amnesty and a free flight home. After hearing horror stories of earlier returnees who took three days to reach Morang from Kathmandu, she opted for the more expensive hotel option in Kathmandu.
Once they they get to home districts, returnees like Kalim Miya from Gorkha spend two weeks in a quarantine centre. But he is lucky it is a well-managed facility, and it helps that his home is close by and he gets to see his children from a distance.