Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Millions of Nepalese migrant workers in the Gulf States have been threatened with dismissal if they do not immediately refrain from political activity.
Employers fear workers’ affiliation with Nepali party organisations, whose leaders are often invited to conferences and meetings in the Gulf monarchies, often paid by migrants themselves.
Sources in Nepal’s Foreign Ministry report that Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and other Gulf States have raised the issue officially with Nepali authorities.
According to Nepali government data, at least a million Nepali live and work in the Gulf countries. Unofficial estimates put the number at two million, many employed in the underground economy.
All of them belong to at least one Nepali political party or to groups affiliated with them.
Government officials report that Nepalis working abroad raise funds and organise visits of political leaders in the countries where they live, as well as cultural and sporting events.
Host countries do not take kindly to such activities, which raise "political awareness" among migrants.
Nepal’s Foreign Ministry said it has already warned its citizens abroad about abstaining from any activity that could jeopardise trade relations with Gulf monarchies.
The countries in the area have not yet made specific requests,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tara Prasad Pokhrel, “but workers must seriously take the responsibility and obligations imposed by their places of residence."
"These states are very important to us and are favoured destinations for our citizens,” he added. “Workers abroad contribute significantly to our nation’s GDP. They must cease any action that might offend their employers."
Gulf “countries are strict on politics and religion,” said Yagya Bahadur Hamal, Nepal’s ambassador to Kuwait. Harischandra Gimire, the former deputy chief at the consular section of Nepal’s Embassy in Qatar, agrees. "Migrant workers should avoid any activity related to religion and politics."
For years, human rights organisations have complained about the lack legislative protection for Nepali workers abroad. Last year, after Nepal’s devastating earthquake, some Gulf States even prevented migrants from returning home to visit relatives or attend funerals.
In Qatar, migrant workers are employed under a sponsorship system known as kafala that effectively ties labourers to their employer and makes it difficult for them to change jobs before their contract expires or without getting their boss' approval.
Several humanitarian organisations have also criticised the practice of seizing workers’ passports, paying their wages on an irregular basis and providing them with inadequate health insurance.
For the International Trade Union Confederation, such conditions favour labour exploitation.