Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amnesty International asks government to protect migrant workers from ‘false promises’

Amnesty International (AI) has blamed some rogue recruitment agencies for trafficking Nepalis for exploitation and forced labour in the Gulf States and Malaysia.
The report, 'False Promises: Exploitation and forced labour of Nepalese migrant workers' published here today by the Amnesty International, also called on the government to improve protection of its migrant workers.
The migrant workers are forced to accept lower salary and even change of job from what they were promised due to exploitations of the agents, said researcher of Asia-Pacific Migrants' Rights and the author of the report Norma Kang Muico. However, some 300,000 migrant workers have paid $710,000 the recruitment agencies in the fiscal year 2008-09, she said, adding that Nepalis seek a better life abroad but fail before they even leave home, as recruitment agents – who earn huge profits – deceive them regarding their terms of contract, which is a key element in trafficking. “By the time they find out the true nature of their work, many are already trapped, saddled with large loans from private lenders with annual interest rates of up to 60 per cent."
Recruitment agencies charge an average Rs 100,000 ($1,400) for their services, three times the average annual income in Nepal, according to the report. "Being burdened with large loans and no alternative way of repaying them leaves migrant workers highly vulnerable to exploitation. The take loan at the rate of 35 per cent interest, which is more than double the bank and financial institutions rate."
The prospective migrants, who take out large loans to pay recruitment fees to secure a job overseas, unaware that recruitment agencies are deceiving them about the work, pay and conditions they are signing up to, said the report of Amnesty International that interviewed nearly 150 migrant workers and found that 90 per cent had been deceived by recruitment agencies regarding their employment contract.
However, president of Foreign Employment Association Nepal Prem Bahadur Katuwal rejected the blame and said that they have been regulated and monitored by the law.
Similarly, director general of Department of Foreign Employment Purna Chandra Bhattarai also expressed government reservation on some of the data of the report.Amnesty International documented cases where migrants were also beaten, threatened and had their freedom of movement restricted by employers in destination countries. Migrants facing exploitation or forced labour who sought assistance from Nepalis recruitment agencies or the government authorities received little support.
The report said that recruitment agencies even endorsed employers’ common practice of confiscating passports, which facilitates abuse. "Migrant women face restrictions to working abroad which increase their vulnerability," Muico said, adding that intermittent bans on domestic work and a requirement to seek family permission prior to migrating, force women to migrate through irregular channels or become ‘undocumented’.
But Bhattarai said that the legal restriction in the destination countries are more stringent than in Nepal and unless the international organisations force the destination countries to abide by the international human rights principle, the problem could not be solve.
Amnesty International interviewed migrant domestics, who had worked 21 hours per day, were not allowed to leave the house and were sexually abused by their employers. “The government must end discriminatory practices that force women migrants underground and leave them at greater risk of exploitation, without the protections available to regular migrants,” Muico added.
Nepal’s Foreign Employment Act 2007 is supposed to provide protection for migrant workers. It has directed recruitment agencies to provide migrant workers with a copy of their contract in advance and guards against excessive fees for recruitment services. It also allows for punishment of recruitment agents that fail to abide by terms of contract.
But Amnesty International’s research found evidence of violations of the law by recruitment agencies, including failure to provide contracts, changing terms and conditions and overcharging for services. But the government is failing to enforce the legislation, and no recruitment agency has been punished.
Migrant workers also have rights under the Act to compensation when their terms and conditions have not been met, yet few are aware of existing mechanisms for complaint and redress.Almost 20 per cent equal of GDP in 2010-11 came from remittances from migrants, who also provide for the needs of their own families. Official figures show that the number of Nepalis migrating abroad has increased five-fold since 2000 and that Qatar is the largest employer of Nepali migrant workers, largely due to construction ahead of the World Cup in 2022.
"If the government prioritises safe migration, it will benefit hundreds of thousands and their families each year,” Muico said, adding that it is imperative that the government acts to protect its citizens abroad which can also benefit Nepal’s economy.
The government must end impunity for rogue recruitment agencies and fully enforce the Foreign Employment Act, the report said.Amnesty International also called on the government to do more to ensure that compensation mechanisms are accessible and effective. "Many migrant workers are in the dark about their rights and don’t know who they can turn to for help. "The authorities must ensure those working abroad and their families are properly informed about the migration process,” she said.
Between September 2010 and May 2011, Amnesty International interviewed 149 returned or prospective migrant workers and met seven recruitment agencies and numerous government officials. Official figures show 294,094 Nepalis migrated abroad for work in 2010, compared with 55,025 in 2000. The majority go to Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE to work in construction, manufacturing and domestic work.

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