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Migrant workers returning home in coffins becoming increasingly disturbing trend in Nepal

Nov 16 2016 | 11:17 am

by Shristi Kafle

Kathmandu: The arrival section of Nepals Tribhuvan International Airport was as busy as usual on Tuesday afternoon, but when the large LED screen in the waiting lounge displayed a message about the arrival of a Qatar Airways flight, a few faces went from red, to expressionless.

nepali-migrant-workersTourists lugging heavy suitcases through the arrivals section went on for an hour or so, most with smiles on their faces as their adventures in this small mountainous country were about to begin, but after a lull in passenger traffic, a large, maroon-colored box was being transported on two carts, pushed by two men.

The eyes on the expressionless faces were now glued to this box, yet far from being expressionless, tears began to flow as the reality of their loved one returning home in a coffin began to sink in.

The body of 29-year-old Yogesh Khatiwada, the youngest son of the Khatiwada family from the eastern Terai district Sunsari, lay lifeless inside the maroon coffin.

The last time I was here was to say goodbye to Yogesh with tears of joy, as he was leaving Nepal for a new chapter in his life, Naresh Khatiwada, brother of Yogesh, told Xinhua. Now, Im welcoming him home with tears of pain and sorrow.

Naresh landed in the capital city from Qatar the previous night to receive his brothers body and to console his elderly bereaved parents. Nikesh, the eldest of the family, also works in the United Arab Emirates as a migrant worker.

Yogesh was a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia for the last six years to make money to send home to his family here. Having worked his way up the ladder, Yogesh finally managed to find a job in a hotel and secured a senior post at the hotel in Dammam city.

With the help of colleagues and his company, he was admitted to the Jubali General Hospital on October 27 after his health deteriorated. The next morning, he was pronounced dead by the hospital and his company and the Embassy of Nepal in Saudi Arabia began procedures to have his body repatriated.

On the coroners report issued by the hospital, the cause of death was listed as cardiopulmonary arrest due to pancreatitis, septic shock, respiration distress syndrome and dysfunction of the kidneys.

His family, on hearing the cause of Yogeshs death, were utterly surprised, as never before had Yogesh had health issues, let alone ones this severe. He had consistently sent money back to his family for six years, although his family did note that he had not been as communicative as usual recently, which did lead them to worry.

Bikal Paudel, a close friend of Yogesh from his hometown, who sorted out the administration for receiving Yogeshs body, told Xinhua, I approached the company that had recruited Yogesh, but they said Yogesh had already changed companies. Due to this, we couldnt get any assistance from them, or any government agencies.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Employment, a victims family is supposed to receive support of Rs 300,000 (about 3,000 U.S. dollars) if the deceased worker had received an official work permit and was working for the assigned organization within the contract period. However, the support does not apply to those who have changed work places and have already worked for more than 3 years.

Furthermore, insurance companies do not compensate the families of dead workers without death certificates clearly stating the cause of death.

On average, 1,500 Nepali workers leave this least developed country from Kathmandu airport everyday to head to the Gulf and the Middle East. And everyday, five to six bodies of migrant workers are returned to Nepalese soil.

Since the number of Nepalese working in Malaysia is the highest, with more than 700,000 people employed, most of the deaths are reported in that country. Between July 2011 and July 2015, 425 Nepali workers died in Malaysia, according to the Foreign Employment Promotion Board in Kathmandu.

A total of 277 Nepali migrants died in Saudi Arabia alone in 2015. The cause of most of the deaths in the Middle East and the Gulf is said to be Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome, which refers to an anomalous condition in which the workers go to sleep fit, but wake up dead.

Rama Bhattarai, Spokesperson at Department of Foreign Employment, told Xinhua, Most of the deaths of migrant workers are due to adjustment or environmental problems, including the temperature and the change in water and food.

In recent times, many have lost their lives due to psychological issues. They have huge expectations and family pressures, but when they are not met overseas, they become the victim of depression and give up, he said.

Since financial assistance is not applicable to many, the Nepalese government has more than ten vehicles designated to ease the plight of the victims family members, by delivering coffins.

Suman Tamang is one of the drivers who has been carrying the coffins from the airport to the respective districts for the past two years.

While tying Yogeshs coffin with ropes to the vehicle, Suman said, It has become routine for me to travel with a dead body. Initially, I felt sad, but later I got used to it and am busy every day.

Among those at the airport stood Yogesh’s father, Krishna Prasad Khatiwada, who travelled more than 600 kilometers from his hometown to the capital on a night bus to have a final glance of his youngest son.

He had dreamt of one day seeing his son married and being able to play with his grandchildren, but that dream had been well and truly shattered.

I asked my son to return several times but despite saying he would, he never did and I sometimes wondered if hed got into some kind of trouble. If health problems were the only reason, he could have returned easily and started his treatment here, Yogeshs tearful father, told Xinhua.

Yogeshs family members cannot accept the cause of his death being so inexplicable.

Working overseas is not a choice, but an obligation for many young people like Yogesh in Nepal, as the country lacks enough employment opportunities for youngsters to make a decent livelihood.

Nepal was the third largest recipient of overseas remittances in 2014 as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Remittance inflows to Nepal had amounted to 29.2 percent of GDP in 2014. In 2015, remittance inflows to Nepal were estimated to be about 7 billion U.S. dollars.

But these remittances have been at the expense of the lives of hundreds of young people with the excuses for death being wholly inadmissible.

While leaving for Itahari to hold the final rituals for Yogesh, the father said, Among 3 sons, only 2 are alive now. I will not let them stay in a foreign land any more.

I will buy few hectares of land from the savings I have and start a farm. Its better to all live together and eat just once a day, rather than living in fear of such a tragedy.

Panipokhari

Kathmandu, Nepal

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