Nepalese migrants continue to die abroad, 18 dead bodies brought back from Malaysia

By Laxman Datt Pant

Nepalese migrants continue to die abroad, 18 dead bodies brought back from Malaysia

Although remittances have significantly contributed to the economy of Nepal and improved the quality of the lives of many Nepalese households, migrant workers continue to die abroad due to various circumstances. On January 23, Nepal brought home the dead bodies of 18 Nepalese migrant workers from Malaysia.

Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA) witnessed a heartbreaking scene when the bodies were received by families and friends most of whom broke down in tears.

A wide-bodied A330 aircraft of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) – the national airline – brought the bodies home as part of its corporate social responsibility. The Nepalese migrant workers had gone to Malaysia, one of the major labor destinations, to seek employment. Every day, on average, the bodies of four Nepalese migrant workers arrive in coffins at the TIA.

Due to the travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the bodies could immediately be brought back to Nepal. Stating that the migrant workers in Malaysia died due to various causes such as heart attacks, accidents, and suicide, Sulekh Mishra Co-Spokesperson at NAC said, “The dead bodies were brought back in coordination with the Embassy of Nepal in Malaysia.” He added that NAC is committed to fulfilling its social responsibility and is preparing to fetch 37 more dead bodies currently in Malaysia.

NAC operates regular flights from Kathmandu in Nepal to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia with its narrow-body aircraft while it uses the wide-body aircraft, which has the capacity to carry 18 coffins, to bring dead bodies home.

  • Within a decade (2009-2019), the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) of Nepal issued labor approval to more than four million Nepalese workers.
  • According to the Foreign Employment Board (FEB) of Nepal, as many as 207 Nepalese migrant workers died between the last week of March and the end of May 2020.
  • A total of 58 dead bodies were buried or burned abroad as they could not be returned to Nepal due to the suspension of international flights in the last week of May 2020.
  • On June 19, 2020, the government of Nepal arranged for the return of the bodies of 23 Nepalese migrant workers who had died in different countries.
  • According to Nepal Rastra Bank (2020), Nepal received a total of US$7.8 billion in remittances in the fiscal year 2018/19 which accounts for 25.4% of the national gross domestic product (GDP) of US$29.8 billion.
  • Data from the Nepal Labor Migration Report (2020) shows that 7,467 migrant workers have lost their lives abroad since 2008 of which 750 deaths were reported between 2018 and 2019.
  • Nepal is the fifth-most remittance-dependent economy across the world
    There are approximately four million Nepalese migrant workers across the world, more than 30% of whom in Malaysia for foreign employment.
  • In the last decade, most migrant workers who lost their lives abroad were victims of cardiac arrest followed by accidents and suicide.

Expressing concern regarding the increasing number of deaths of Nepalese migrant workers in destination countries, Bishnu Bahadur Khatri, a Migrant Rights Activist, said, “Nepalese migrants are forced to work as modern slavery workers due to the lack of information about work and the destination country, debt burden and family responsibilities, and defective recruitment process resulting in distress and deaths.”

Highlighting that bi-lateral labor contracts should be in place before sending migrant workers abroad, he suggested that there should be better-informed choices for aspiring migrant workers before they sought work abroad. Nepalese diplomatic missions should be active in ensuring the rights of migrant workers with proper monitoring, a mechanism to address complaints, and access to justice, he added.

By tradition, Nepal’s labor migration is concentrated in the Gulf states and Malaysia. Remittances remain over a quarter of the gross domestic product (GDP) in Nepal.

Most of the Nepalese migrant workers in Malaysia are engaged in labor-intensive manufacturing sectors with little or no opportunity to rest. Furthermore, alcohol consumption remains common among Nepalese migrants in Malaysia which is considered to be one of the major contributory factors for sudden deaths.