SPECIAL REPORT

Despite Risks, Nepalese Workers Head to Afghanistan

 
 
Man Bahadur Thapa shows his arm, which was wounded in a terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he worked as a security guard at the Canadian embassy. Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal
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The 2016 attack in Kabul that severely injured Man Bahadur Thapa and killed more than a dozen others spurred the Nepalese government to temporarily ban the nation’s workers from taking employment in conflict zones. But recent laws requiring foreign employers to offer benefits have led desperate Nepalese migrant workers to stream into Afghanistan.

KATHMANDU, NEPAL — Man Bahadur Thapa went to Afghanistan for money and came home with a disfigured face and a body pockmarked by shrapnel wounds.

The majority of the estimated 2.2 million Nepalese who work abroad are in Malaysia and the Middle East, but some — 2,254 between 2008 and 2015 — headed west to Afghanistan, where danger pay means more money to send home.

Thapa, 52, worked as a security guard at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city. A suicide bomber detonated himself on June 20, 2016, killing 13 Nepalese who were Thapa’s coworkers.

“I survived due to my luck,” he says. “I am a person who survived due to the gods’ blessing.”

The attack galvanized the Nepalese government into banning migrant workers from taking assignments in Afghanistan and other conflict zones. But the government lifted the ban months later, as workers loudly lobbied for their right to labor wherever they wished. However, new restrictions limit workers to taking contracts with manpower agencies that send them to United Nations offices or U.S., U.K. or Canadian embassies and missions.

The majority of the estimated 2.2 million Nepalese who work abroad are in Malaysia and the Middle East, but some — 2,254 between 2008 and 2015 — headed west to Afghanistan, where danger pay means more money to send home.

Employers must also guarantee high-level security, a minimum salary of $1,000 per month and a commitment to send a worker’s body home if he or she dies while abroad.

Those benefits have workers streaming toward opportunities in Afghanistan.

Universal Connection, a Kathmandu-based recruiting firm, has sent 800 workers to Afghanistan since the ban was overturned in 2016, and 500 more have signed up to go there, says Padam Prasad Upadhyay, the firm’s managing director.

“People want to earn money without caring for their own life, because it is their compulsion,” Upadhyay says. “There is not any employment opportunity in Nepal.”

Those new benefits likely wouldn’t have helped Thapa, who struggles to pay his medical bills. The explosion damaged his ribs, knocked out his teeth, mutilated his ears and numbed the right side of his body.

He was first taken to a hospital in India, where he remained for 30 days. Once he returned to Nepal, he checked in at Vayodha Hospital for additional treatment. Now, he visits B&B Hospital every day for physiotherapy, which costs 900 Nepali rupees ($8.72) per session. Along with about 700 rupees ($6.78) in taxi fees to get there, Thapa feels financially strapped.

The Foreign Employment Promotion Board, the Nepalese government agency that supervises migrant worker issues, gave Thapa 90,000 rupees ($873) for medical costs, but that fund is quickly being drained.

“I do not have any source of earning,” Thapa says. “I have to spend only. The government has not done anything. I am in economic crisis.”

After Global Press Journal contacted Thapa’s insurance company, Thapa says he received 600,000 rupees (about $5,850) in an insurance payout — money that Thapa says the company had been withholding since he returned to Nepal.

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Migrant workers returning from their foreign jobs fill out paperwork at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport in April 2016.

Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal

 

Sagar Ghimire, GPJ, translated this story from Nepali.