It’s not hard to see why so many Nepalese workers leave their country to try their luck in the rich Gulf states; the sale of their “cheap labor” abroad seems like the only way to climb out of the global wealth gap. But their hope is buoyed on empty promises, according to an investigation by Amnesty International, which shows how Nepal’s migration system transforms its people into commodities on both sides of the labor trade.
The Amnesty report details scores of cases of inhumane treatment, including many migrants reporting they were “beaten, threatened and had their freedom of movement restricted by employers.” Concentrated in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and within a few low-wage sectors such as construction and domestic work, migration has grown exponentially over the past decade. The official count is more than 290,000 in 2010, but the real number could be as much as double that. The exodus was in part spurred by the chaos resulting from a long-running civil conflict that led to massive killing and displacement.
For a “developing country,” though, these migration patterns are not an example of the “free market” at work. The migrant industry is managed by brokers who funnel labor into foreign markets while authorities turn a blind eye to horrific working conditions, and the workers in turn pump out remittances that prop up Nepal’s economy.
In 2008-2009, the labor agencies sucked about $710,000 per day from migrants’ pockets, just for the privilege of toiling in a country where they might earn enough to live on. According to researchers, ‘Of the 150 returnees and prospective migrant workers interviewed for the report, more than 90 per cent of them said that they were deceived by recruitment agencies and brokers on the fundamental aspects of their contract.” These agencies have little oversight, despite labor laws governing migration. Authorities have generally failed to address abuse issues and hold agencies accountable for labor violations. Read the rest of this entry →