Tension grips Nepalis in Middle East

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Friday, February 25, 2011

KATHMANDU - Tens of thousands of Nepalis working in the Middle East and north Africa were mired in fear and tension following sweeping unrest across the region.

With violence and turmoil gripping Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya, thousands of blue-collar Nepali workers, who keep the fragile republic’s economy alive by sending money home from abroad, are worried about losing their jobs, and some even their lives.

In Libya alone, where over 1,000 people are rumoured to have been killed since protests erupted against the rule of Colonel Muammar Gadhafi, nearly 5,000 Nepali workers are living in danger of their lives, Kathmandu-based rights group Human Rights Organisation of Nepal said Friday.

It said it was flooded with appeals by the families of the stranded men, urging for government help to evacuate them from the trouble-torn north African state.

Protests also broke out before the foreign ministry in Kathmandu with demonstrators alleging government apathy towards the plight of Nepali citizens abroad.

Nepal’s official media said Friday that 562 workers, who had fled Libya, had reached the Egyptian border and that the government had requested Egypt to provide food, accommodation and security to the fleeing group.

More than 1,000 Nepali workers were still holed up in Libyan capital Tripoli alone, reports said. An estimated 40,000 Nepalis are employed in Bahrain and the growing unrest there has spurred fears of their influx back to Nepal.

Recruiting agencies in Kathmandu said they were monitoring the situation closely in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two largest destinations for Nepali workers in the Middle East.

Nearly 1.5 million Nepalis are currently working in the Middle East with about 560,000 in Saudi Arabia, 350,000 in Qatar and the rest scattered in the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Iraq.

In 2004, 12 Nepali workers, who had been duped into going to Iraq, then a banned destination in Nepal, were taken hostage by a militant organisation and beheaded.

The executions triggered riots in Kathmandu and attacks on manpower agencies as well as Gulf airlines offices.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

Filed under: Politics

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