01/09/2015, 00.00
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Pope's message for peace useful to free Nepali slaves in Arab Gulf

by Christopher Sharma
Nepali authorities share Francis' position on "slave labour" and hope to influence Kuwaiti authorities who have blocked the repatriation of 135 Nepali women. Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE are the most common destinations for unskilled migrant workers, the first victims of human trafficking.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The government of Nepal will "use" Pope Francis' message for the 48th World Day of Peace to save its citizens enslaved in Arab countries.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Nepalis leave the country to seek work abroad. However, in most cases, they are caught up in the human trafficking racket, or forced to work in inhumane conditions.

Nepali authorities have taken a number of steps to protect their citizens. However, abroad, Nepalis are subject to the laws of the host country.

This is the case for 135 women currently holed up in the Nepali embassy in Kuwait. The women want to go home because they are no longer willing to submit to the conditions in which they were forced to work.

For this reason, they asked their country's diplomatic mission for help. The latter has organised everything for their repatriation; however, because of Kafala, the Kuwaiti government has not allowed them to leave.

Widespread in the Gulf countries, the Kafala system allows employers to seize documents and passports from their foreign employees, to prevent them from changing jobs or going home.

Nepali Labour Minister Tek Bahadur Gurung said that the Nepali government's hands are tied. All it can tod is wait for a bilateral agreement with Kuwait. However, "Our demands and choices are stronger since the pope encouraged us globally."

Currently, more than 400,000 Nepali workers live in Kuwait. According to data provided by the Department of Foreign Employment of Nepal, 556,790 left the country in 11 months of fiscal year 2013-14. For 403,090, this was their first experience abroad. For another 153,700, this is the second. The highest rate of emigration in a single month was 58,937.

Among Islamic countries, Malaysia is the first destination for unskilled Nepali workers, followed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait.

The growth of "slave labour", as Pope Francis called, has been facilitated by the fact that most migrants are unskilled.

In Nepal's case, "Only 2 per cent are skilled workers, 23 per cent are semi-skilled and 75 per cent are unskilled," said Purna Chandra Bhattarai, joint secretary at the Labour Ministry.

"Ninety-five per cent of those who emigrate choose Malaysia or the Gulf countries, whilst 90 per cent of them choose unofficial channels to reach their destination. This makes them even more vulnerable."

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