March 28, 2011
According to Trade Arabia News Service, officials from the Nepali Embassy in Saudi Arabia are set to arrive in Bahrain to outline plans for Nepali workers, fearful of the ongoing and escalating unrest in this Gulf country. The workers are desperate to return to Nepal but have been unable to retrieve their passports from their foreign employers.
Bahrain’s Nepali Club president Durga Bahadur Giri said embassy officials will hold a meeting with workers to hear their views and complete formalities of those who wish to leave Bahrain.
Nepal has one of the biggest expatriate communities in Bahrain with more than 25,000 people working there, mostly as security guards, construction workers and cleaners.
There is no Nepalese diplomatic mission in Bahrain; the embassy in Saudi has been tasked to identify high-risk places and ensure a swift evacuation, if necessary.
“Some workers have already booked their tickets but cannot get hold of their employers, who are holding their passports,” said Giri.
Giri also said the media in Nepal were carrying misleading reports from Bahrain, stating Nepalis were attacked and were being denied food. “This is not true. No Nepali worker has been injured since the unrest,” he said.
But the Non-Resident Nepalis Association (NRNA) earlier issued a statement saying people working in Bahrain “were unnecessarily subject to psychological trauma due to insufficient substantiated coverage about Bahrain.”
The harsh reality of Nepalis working overseas can be very grim indeed.
In a report compiled by Nepali embassies and released in January, over 800 Nepali nationals died in 2010 while working in the Middle East and Malayasia. Accidents in the workplace and suicide appear to have been the most common causes of death. In Saudi Arabia alone, 323 Nepalis lost their lives, while 192 and 84 died in Qatar and the UAE respectively. Suicide accounted for 160 deaths.
Manpower companies have been almost absurdly complacent about the high death rate among Nepali workers. “Deaths of a few hundred people are natural”, said the President of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA).
An estimated six million Nepali workers live abroad. Every day, 600 migrants leave Nepal legally, with as many again estimated to migrate illegally. Around 700,000 Nepali migrants work in the Gulf States, with 125,000 in UAE, where at least 45 per cent work in the construction sector. Many also work in hospitality, as security guards and as domestic workers.
As for future remittance prospects, the protests in the Middle East could have economic consequences for Nepal. In 2010, 23% of Nepal's GDP came in the form of remittances from workers employed in other countries. And that figure does not include remittances from India, which are unquestioningly large.
One final twist: According to Arab Times, Chinese workers are replacing Nepali workers in Gulf countries as Chinese construction firms increasingly land overseas contracts.
Put simply, Chinese construction firms bring Chinese workers with them. According to data from the Chinese Consulate, in the United Arab Emirates alone, there are almost 200,000 Chinese residents and over 3,000 firms.
Likewise, around 250,000 Chinese working in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and other countries. Chinese workers comes cheap with fewer political risks. According to Christopher Davidson, Professor of Middle East politics at the United Kingdom’s Durham University, Chinese workers bring political advantage to Gulf countries as they do not speak Arabic and the majority is not Muslim.
“They do not seek migrant rights like South Asian workers are fighting for,” he said. South Asians including 1.2 million Nepalis have been struggling for migrant workers rights in Gulf countries for a decade now.
He said that a Chinese construction company offers the full package, including management and labor. It’s a readymade solution, compared to construction firms from other countries, which will supply the management but source the labor from Bangladesh and Nepal.