Nepal relies heavily on remittances sent from workers abroad and nearly a fifth of Nepal’s expatriate workers live in Qatar. Ongoing diplomatic tension in the Persian Gulf has led to a travel ban between Qatar and four countries in the region, and Nepalese workers wait with uncertainty as the ban begins to affect travel costs and working conditions.
KATHMANDU, NEPAL — New restrictions on travel to and from Qatar have led to insecurity for Nepalese workers there, and financial experts and labor advocates say the restrictions could have a serious, negative impact on Nepal’s economy.
While Nepal is not directly implicated in the restrictions, Qatar is a major destination for Nepalese migrant workers, who often fly through other Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, on their way to Doha, Qatar’s capital city. In early June, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Egypt all suspended diplomatic ties with Qatar, a move that closed down all land, air and sea routes between those four countries and the tiny nation. For Nepalese workers, fewer routes between Kathmandu and Doha could mean higher prices for air travel.
Nepalese workers in Qatar say conditions are unstable there. Ganesh Gurung, a sociologist and labor migration expert, says workers have reported a food shortage to him. Some Nepalese workers who transport goods throughout the region in the trucking business have lost their jobs, Gurung says.
He adds that some workers who were deployed throughout the region by Qatari companies are now out of work.
Prem Khatri, a Nepalese worker in Qatar, says that while he hasn’t been personally impacted by the ban, he knows of some workers suffering from food shortages.
Mohan Adhikari, a spokesman for Nepal’s Department of Foreign Employment, disputed those reports, telling GPJ that working conditions for Nepalese laborers in Qatar are normal. However, he says, Nepalese authorities should be ready to evacuate Nepalese nationals from Qatar if the situation worsens.
About 124,000 of the roughly half a million labor permits issued to workers in 2014-2015 were for workers heading to Qatar, according to Nepalese government data. Since 2008, 19 percent of all Nepalese workers going abroad have landed in Qatar.
In 2013-2014, foreign remittances accounted for 28 percent of Nepal’s gross domestic product, according to government data.
But there are signs that Nepal’s increasing reliance on remittances is slowing.
Migrant workers sent home about 633 billion Nepalese rupees (about $6.2 billion) in remittances in the 2016-2017 fiscal year – an increase of 5.8 percent over the previous year, according to data released by Nepal Rastra Bank’s research department. But the previous year saw an increase of 8.6 percent, according to that data.
About 1 billion rupees ($9.8 million) of the remittances sent to Nepal last year came from Qatar, says Nara Bahadur Thapa, an executive director at the bank.
It’s still too early to see a how the ban will affect Nepalese people, Thapa says.
“There has not been any direct impact on Nepalese workers,” he says, “but they have psychological fear.”
Sagar Ghimire, GPJ, translated this article from Nepali.