LALITPUR, NEPAL — A year ago, Nepalese migrant worker Giri Prasad B.K. was in a near-comatose state at Hamad General Hospital in Doha, Qatar. He was injured in a roadside accident, a common occurrence for migrant workers in Persian Gulf countries, but in the hospital Giri B.K.’s body appeared healthy. The medical team that had cared for him for five years was attentive, even though his family didn’t pay any medical bills.
Now, nine months after being transferred to a hospital in Nepal, Giri B.K.’s body is thin – too thin. His face is darker than before and his bones jut out at sharp angles beneath his skin. Now, his family pays his medical bills with funds received from the Qatari government for his care, but Giri B.K.’s wife, Krishna Kumari B.K., says the money is quickly running out. Far from her home village, where she and her family have long lived a hand-to-mouth existence, she despairs.
“Where I am going?” she laments. “What I am going to do and how I am going to return to the village?”
Global Press Journal reported in 2016 that Nepalese migrant workers who are injured abroad, whether at their worksites or in incidents outside of work such as road accidents, often wind up in limbo, without money and uncertain whether they’ll see insurance benefits (if they hold insurance policies at all).
Often, companies that hire migrants do so illegally. Bogus employment contracts are common. Exploitation of migrant workers, many of whom go abroad with a dream of lifting their families out of poverty, is rife.
For Nepalese migrant workers, this exploitation begins at the Nepalese-owned manpower agencies – a betrayal that, to many in the country’s community-driven culture, is unconscionable.
Nepalese migrant workers die and are injured at high rates while working abroad. In fiscal year 2014-15, the most recent year on record, more than 1,000 workers died. Many died because of dangerous workplace conditions and health issues that experts say are related to workplace conditions, including cardiac arrest and heart attack. About 13 percent of all deaths of Nepalese migrant workers are due to traffic accidents.
Govinda Bhurtel, spokesman at Nepal’s Ministry of Labor and Employment, says that injured workers who are stuck in foreign countries have only themselves to blame.
“Those who go for foreign employment earn money for themselves and they get treatment on their own,” he says.
Some foreign hospitals are now threatening to leave injured Nepalese workers at Nepalese embassies, Bhurtel adds.
But Ganesh Gurung, a labor migration expert, argues that the government is responsible for injured workers like Giri B.K., whom the government brought home even though his family couldn’t afford to pay for his long-term care.
“The government and human rights activists made the decision to bring back comatose patients to Nepal based on nationalistic feeling rather than on a pragmatic basis, and the situation has now come where these patients are on the verge of death after returning to Nepal,” Gurung says.
Since January, migrant workers have been required to hold insurance policies that would pay 2.7 million Nepalese rupees ($26,121) if they die or are seriously injured. Along with that requirement, government officials announced that compensation to families of migrant workers killed or injured abroad would increase from 300,000 rupees ($2,902) to between 500,000 to 700,000 rupees ($4,837 to $6,772).
Bhogendra Raj Dotel, chief of the Ministry of Health’s Policy, Planning and International Cooperation Division, acknowledges that the government should do more. Some officials have suggested that the government create a treatment center for Nepalese workers who are seriously injured abroad, but there’s been no serious discussion of that idea, he says.
Krishna B.K., along with her two children, Loveson, a teenager, and Lojan, 10, ached for Giri B.K.’s return from Qatar. He was alone there, save for one Nepalese friend who visited him and occasionally updated his family on his condition. Krishna B.K. worried about how she would care for him if he came home, but she also believed that being surrounded by family members and by people who speak his native language would help him heal.
Global Press Journal visited Giri B.K. in 2016 at Hamad General Hospital in Doha, Qatar’s capital city, where about a dozen seriously injured migrant workers were quartered and treated on the Qatari government’s dime. Despite his injury, he appeared well-fed. He received physical therapy and other treatments there.
In August, a miracle came: Krishna B.K. learned that the Nepalese embassy in Qatar would bring her husband home, and that the Qatari government would give her 4.6 million rupees ($44,503) for his treatment.
Giri B.K. arrived at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, on Aug. 26. He was admitted to Vayodha Hospital, where he stayed for 36 days, but treatment there was expensive, so his wife moved him to B&B Hospital.
Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal
Now, Krishna B.K.’s funds are rapidly depleting. She spent 100,000 rupees ($967) a month on medical bills to B&B Hospital and an additional 15,000 rupees ($145) on food and medicine. Now, Giri B.K. is at a nearby rehabilitation center.
To save money, Krishna B.K. lives in her husband’s room. She watches her husband for signs of fever, bed wounds and body tremors, and ensures that he receives the treatment he needs. The couple’s son, Loveson, stays there too, to help with his father’s care. His school principal has contacted Krishna B.K. many times to report that the boy can’t concentrate in the classroom.
Lojan, who remained in the family’s village with relatives, doesn’t sleep well, Krishna B.K. says.
To make matters worse, her husband’s father, 64-year-old Dal Bahadur B.K., was admitted to the same hospital in February for paralysis treatment. Krishna B.K. has spent an additional 300,000 rupees ($2,902) for his care.
“What sins had I committed in my previous life that I am enduring one problem after another?” she asks, sobbing.
Sagar Ghimire, GPJ, translated this article from Nepali.