01/29/2009, 00.00
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Nepalese immigrants converting to Islam in order to work in Arab countries

by Kalpit Parajuli
The charge has been made by the Nepalese workers' union: 2,000 cases in Qatar, 4,000 in the Arab emirates and Malaysia. The foreign minister has asked his embassies to verify these cases, and stop conversions made by force or external pressure.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - More and more Nepalese emigrants who have gone to Muslim majority countries to work - for example, on the Arabian Peninsula - are abandoning their Hindu religion and embracing Islam in order to improve their economic and social situation.

According to figures from the Nepalese workers' union, in Qatar alone there have been about 2,000 cases of conversion, plus 4,000 in Saudi Arabia, the Arab emirates, and Malaysia.

Rita Tamang, who emigrated to Saudi Arabia two years ago from the Nepalese district of Dhulikhel, explains that "Muslims get privileges with better work and good pay. The workers from other religions are hardly trusted by private employers. So, I myself also adopted Islam, giving up Hinduism." It's the same story for Manoj Karki, who left Kathmandu to go to work on an oil rig in Qatar. "I was hardly managing to save money from my salary, but since I have changed my religion to Islam, I am now more safe, comfortable, and with easy access to jobs.” His wife, who works as a maid in Doha, followed her husband's example: “My husband converted to Islam and he advised me to do the same, so I did."

On the basis of numbers provided by the Nepalese workers' union, and under pressure from the complaints of immigrants and their relatives in Nepal, the foreign minister in Kathmandu has decided to take measures to stop the wave of conversions. Upendra Mahato says he has "instructed our diplomatic missions to probe the cases and stop such conversions if they come through pressure or by force."

According to estimates by the Nonresidential Nepalese Association, of the almost 7 million citizens of the Asian country who are working abroad, more than 400,000 are in the Gulf region. Of the 55 countries in which Nepalese immigrants are living, the most common destinations for those seeking work are Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, both Muslim majority countries.

By sending part of their earnings back home, emigrants represent one of the main sources of income for Nepal.

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