[A Nepali version of this story was published in Himal Khabarpatrika in August 2017.]
In December 2016, I visited a few labor camps in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as part of a research project about life of Nepali migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates.
After visiting labor camps in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in December 2016, I went to the Embassy of Nepal in UAE to speak with embassy staff and understand about the labor situation from their perspective. Coincidentally, I met a group of Nepali migrant workers there who had arrived to seek help from the embassy. I met Ambar Bahadur Tamang, Padam Bahadur Magar, Rudra, and four of their friends from the same Sisauli village in Udaypur district of Nepal.
All was going well until Mr. Tamang stopped receiving his salary since January 2016. After four months of unpaid salary and repeated false promises, Mr. Tamang and six other workers from the same village stopped working.
Nepal and the United Arab Emirates signed a bilateral labor agreement on July 3, 2007 to ostensibly protect Nepali migrant workers. Article 9 reads, “In case of any dispute raised between the employers and the workers, complaint shall be presented to the competent department in the Ministry of labour in UAE to endeavor for an amicable settlement. If no amicable settlement is reached, the complaint shall be referred for settlement to the competent judicial authorities in the UAE.”
Mr. Tamang and his six friends followed this official procedure and filed a case with the Ministry of labor in UAE. After no action was taken against their employer, they filed a case in the labor court. The employer failed to appear in the court and so, the court issued them an exit visa but did not take any further action against the employer.
Mr. Tamang told his employer, “If you can’t pay us our four months of salary, at least give us our passport. We will purchase our return tickets at our own expense and return.” Even after this, his employer refused to return his passport. So, they headed to the Embassy of Nepal in Abu Dhabi to seek help. In a video interview at the embassy, he said, “We want to get out of this country and die in our own Motherland. We want to return to our country instead of being stranded here [in UAE].” The Embassy of Nepal prepared a travel document in lieu of the passport each for Mr. Tamang and six of his friends.
As a sign of goodwill, they also waived the document fee. They will use this travel document to obtain an exit visa before returning to Nepal.
In a video interview at the embassy, another stranded Nepali migrant worker Rudra said, “I came to UAE hoping that possibly I could make some money and improve the economic situation of my family. Using my property as collateral, I took a loan and came here hoping it would improve my children’s future.” He further said, “It cost me 1 lakh 25 thousand rupees. The moneylender has been harassing my family already. I came here hoping to earn some money but I ended up like this, in a ‘lathalinga’ (limbo) condition.” He said in Nepali, “Nepali company bhanera yatro chhati fulayera ayiyo, Nepali company le barbadai banaidiyo.” This translates to, I was proud that a Nepali company was helping us but eventually, the same Nepali company ruined us.
Ambar Bahadur Tamang and Rudra are among the many Nepali migrant workers who are exploited and stranded while working as migrant workers in UAE and other countries.
I would like to sincerely thank my friends (name withheld for their anonymity) and the embassy staff in UAE for their support during this project. This story is from 2016 and due to time constraints in my own life, I have not been able to edit and share video interviews. All photos are taken by me and are available for use with proper attributes to me and Texas A&M University.
This work is part of a student media grant by the Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University. I would like to thank The Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University (ConDev, condev.org) for its funding and support.
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