The unprecedented nature of the current COVID-19 pandemic comes with dire consequences for Nepali labour migrants. A recent World Bank report expects growth to decelerate to 2.8 percent in fiscal year 2020 hindering agricultural growth, and a significant reduction in remittances and tourism’. Remittance is the bedrock of Nepal’s economy. It accounts for 25% of the GDP, one of the highest rates globally. In 2018/2019 alone, 8.79 billion USD was received, making a significant source of foreign exchange earnings for Nepal. However, an additional 40-50% in remittances are undocumented. These figures suggest an insurmountable economic, political and social crisis for our country.
According to Janak Raj Sapkota, Sub-Editor of Kantipur Daily and an expert in Nepali migration, it is anticipated that approximately 12 lakhs migrant workers will be returning from the top five destination countries – Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia during this outbreak. Key sectors of employment in countries of destination include construction, manufacturing, domestic help and services (sales, hospitality). He further states that as per the National Planning Commission almost nine lakhs labour migrants return home every year but the employment prospects are not favourable. What is available is primarily in the agricultural sector but that also comes with challenges. In some instances, the skills they acquire while away do not necessarily fit to the Nepali market. Moreover, Sapkota asserts that 70% of the total Nepali labour migrants are unskilled, with jobs in agriculture and manufacturing sectors.
What does this mean for the work of Nepal Communitere? We began as a humanitarian and disaster relief organization following the Great Quakes of 2015. As we see this crisis unfolding we are continuously exploring what is best way that we can support returning migrants. There will be an urgent need of opportunities to sustain themselves and their families, which may be in the form of employment and/or starting their own business. How will an innovation-led community hub like ours be able to support our fellow Nepalis with varied levels of skills is the burgeoning question? We along with a multitude of organisations in the public and private sectors will need to rethink and redesign our existing strategies, approaches, collaborations, products and services, amongst others. This entails going beyond short term gain and recovery, to provide them with various skills and opportunities, while they transition and adapt back into their families and communities, and to a new normal.
Currently Nepal Communitere is working on strengthening an information platform serving the needs of Nepali migrants. We are conducting research with migrants (either abroad, returnees or aspiring) to understand their needs, grievances and the best way to get timely information to them. We would very much appreciate your help in connecting us to anyone you know who is currently based in the Gulf, Malaysia or India or who has recently returned to Nepal from working abroad. Please reach out directly to Anil Parajuli at [email protected] who is leading this valuable research initiative.
We are also exploring partnerships to see how we can adapt our I-Cube Business Incubation Program to harness new ideas returnee migrants may have to initiate new ventures in Nepal. How can we leverage government and public funds to engage our returnee migrants in inspiring and meaningful work? We realize it’s ambitious, but in times like these we need to be bold changemakers!
While we have to think about a way forward to support the returning Nepali migrants, a more immediate and devastating crisis at hand is their plight to get home. There are Nepalis stranded in various countries. Those who do have a window of hope to return are walking endlessly for days or travelling via buses from different parts of Nepal and India after losing jobs in excruciatingly painful conditions. Those in quarantine are said to receive minimal basic necessities with poor hygiene facilities, as such we constantly hear of people fleeing, suggesting a looming public health crisis. The #NyaanoSwaagat – Welcome Home movement is working around the clock to provide relief packages with food, water and emergency supplies to Nepalis on their way home. Nepal Communitere has joined this amazing initiative by providing storage and warehouse services to collect donated goods to be deployed directly to returning migrants. We urge you to support this incredible effort by joining the movement and contributing to the Go Fund Me campaign.