When Krishna Kumari of Syangja landed in Dubai on March 5, she expected to be ferried to a job at an office. To her dismay, the recruitment agency sent her to work as a maid at a private house instead.
“I learned that the agent had sold me for 12,000 dirhams,” says Kumari, who was looking forward to earning some money in the UAE to send to her mentally-ill mother and paralyzed father back home.
Kumari had no option but to work. But after two months, her employer kicked her out, sending her back to the same agency, which had been housing 45 other Nepali women in a small room. “Two people had to share a bowl of rice, and we were not allowed to use a mobile phone.”
Kumari is one of the thousands of Nepalis who have gone to the Gulf in search of jobs, but on tourist visas, which don’t legally entitle them to work. According to government figures, 65,663 Nepalis have come to the UAE on tourist visas since January 2021. Officials suspect that a high proportion of them have come to work rather than for tourism purposes.
Most of them came to the UAE by paying millions to agents, who work in cahoots with immigration officials.
“The owner of the agency said that I had to pay him Rs 300,000 if I wanted to go home,” says Kumari.
One day, five women, including Kumari, ran away from their captors. A Nepali restaurateur accommodated them for a few days before they were moved to a shelter run by the NRNA.
Until two years ago, the Nepali embassy had been providing shelter to stranded Nepali women workers in its building. After the embassy closed the shelter due to Covid-19, NRNA UAE has been running its own shelter.
Nirmala Thapa, Labor Counselor at the Nepali Embassy, says Nepali workers who come on work visas do not face any problems in the UAE. Nonetheless, she says the embassy would still spare no effort to rescue and assist those who have come in contact with their problems.
Praveen Pokharel, coordinator of the program to help and rescue homeless Nepalis under NRNA, says the organization has provided tickets home to 28 women and 198 men. Pokharel says thousands of others have been provided with food and temporary shelter.
Human trafficking and exploitation start from Nepal. As migrant workers who come on tourist visas carry a legal visa when they arrive at the destination country, they can seek legal redress if they face a problem.
But by the time they realize they have been deceived, they have lost their legal ground. From here they are ready to be sold in the US, Europe, or other Gulf countries, a troubling trend that has been evident of late.