Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Reduction in remittances can have other major ripple effects on Nepali economy

Chief of Mission
International Organization for Migration – IOM
Kathmandu, Nepal
Loren Lando is Chief of Mission of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nepal since September 2019. Prior to her posting in Nepal, she was IOM Chief of Mission to the Republic of Tunisia (2011 – 2019), Deputy Chief of Mission in Sri Lanka (2010 – 2011), Chief of Mission a.i. in France (2009 – 2010), Deputy Chief of Mission in Afghanistan (2006 – 2008). Earlier she also worked in Iraq, Jordan, in the Balkans, Liberia and Central America. Lando has been serving in development and humanitarian field for over 25 years and has been advocating for migrants’ rights, migrants protection, and highlighting the contribution of migration to development during her service with IOM since 2000. Earlier Lando holds an International Post-graduate Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance, Fordham University, New York, USA; Post-graduate Diploma on Civilian Personnel in Peacekeeping Operations, Scuola Sup. Sant’Anna di Pisa, Italy; Certificate in Development Studies, University of London, UK; and BA with Honours in Modern Languages (Maj) and SocioEconomics Studies, University of Westminster, London, UK. An Italian national, Lando speaks English, French, Spanish, and Italian. We talked talks about the current woes of migrants, their evacuation, depleting remittance sent by them, with her on the occasion of International Day of Family Remittances that falls on June 16 ever year.

What is this year's motto and programmes for International Day of Family Remittances, and how has IOM planned to celebrate in such troubled times?
The International Day of Family Remittances (IDFR), which is observed on 16 June every year, is a universally-recognized observance adopted by the United Nations. The day recognises the contribution of over 200 million migrant workers to improve the lives of their 800 million family members back home and to create a future of hope for their children.
The IDFR is fully recognised at global level, and included as one of the key initiatives to implement the newly-adopted Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, also calling for the reduction of remittance transfer costs, and greater financial inclusion through remittances. The Day is also functional to the pursuit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This year, the IDFR will be observed, as you called, in such a ‘troubled times’. Covid-19 has changed the world. Millions of migrant workers are losing their jobs, and many remittance-receiving households are suddenly pushed below the poverty line, bringing to a halt efforts to reach their own individual SDGs.
With estimated 2.4 million Nepalis working in over 100 countries across the globe and contribution of remittances in GDP equivalent to 27.3 per cent in 2019, remittances are a lifeline for over 50 per cent Nepali households.
To mark the day in Nepal, IOM is hosting a webinar on ‘Impacts of Covid-19 in Remittances and Nepalese Economy’ which will bring together regulatory authorities and experts to discuss on the impact of the pandemic and way forward. The webinar is on 16 June starting at 11am. The invitation is open to all. Anybody interested can join through this link.
Similarly a radio episode is being aired on impacts of Covid-19 on remittances and its consequences on migrants’ families and the country through a radio network of over 200 radio stations all over Nepal.   
In addition to that, with the aim to encourage the migrants and their families to convert remittances into sustainable source of livelihoods, IOM, remittance through social media outlets, will be posting testimonies of few returnee migrants who have been successfully running their small-scale businesses back home utilising the.

How has the IOM been collaborating with the Nepal government to bring in the Nepali migrant workers from different labour destination countries?
Sadly, as all other crisis the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the most vulnerable the hardest. The migrants are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of the pandemic, including soaring unemployment rates and possible loss of income. With nearly all countries worldwide enforcing travel restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of virus, many migrants are unable to return to their countries or origin or reach their intended destinations.
Nepali migrants are certainly no exception. According to various sources, around 450,000 Nepali migrants are projected to lose their jobs and over 127,000 migrants are already in need of immediate assistance in host countries with little or no support and are unable to support their families at home. The Government of Nepal has started repatriation of Nepali migrants beginning last week on priority basis. Most of them have lost their jobs and many are in need of immediate assistance. 
With this evolving situation, IOM, in coordination and partnership with CSOs, other UN Agencies, and development partners, has been supporting the Government in its efforts to address the migrants-related issues. In line with IOM Covid-19 global preparedness and response plan to control further transmission and mitigate the impact of the outbreak, IOM Nepal’s focus initially are on preparedness and response, however, recovery is a major activity to address the socio-economic reintegration of the vulnerable groups. 
IOM has proposed strategic actions to support a coordinated prevention, mitigation and response efforts of stakeholders from federal, provincial and cross-border to control transmission and mitigate negative impact in the society and reduce a huge strain in the health care system, aligned with Health Sector Emergency Plan for Covid-19 pandemic and Joint UN Country Preparedness and Response Plan for Covid-19 pandemic in Nepal.
Currently, IOM has been providing technical support and expertise to Ministry of Health on issues related to migration health during the health cluster coordination meetings.
IOM leads the migrant protection sub-group consisting of government agencies, civil society, development partners and UN, which discusses prevailing the protection concerns of migrants and suggests way forward to address the issues. IOM will identify most vulnerable migrants and provide cash support to address their immediate needs as well as a longer-term reintegration supports to some migrants. 
IOM will be providing Non-food Items (NFIs) to most vulnerable communities of provinces 1, 5 and Sundurpaschim province. Personal protective equipment such as 3000 coverall, 1000 goggles, 3000 gloves, 3000 N95 masks, 25,000 surgical masks, 275 liters of hand sanitizers will be provided mainly for point of entries (PoEs).
IOM has been running various migrants-focused risk communications such as television and radio programmes, audio/visual messages and social media campaigns to raise migrants-related issues and raise awareness among Nepali migrants both in the country as well as in destination countries about preventive measures to help spread of the virus, to mental health issues during the crisis, as well as awareness among general public against anti-migrants discrimination and stigma as spreader of the virus. IOM has also developed a one-stop online information center for migrants with all migration-related information in Nepal such as travel restrictions, work permit, visa, migrant-focused awareness raising messages and so on. 
IOM will be conducting a few separate quick assessments to understand migration and migration health situation, skills and vulnerability of returning migrants.

Has there any role of IOM in evacuating the foreign workers from Nepal also?
IOM is the leading intergovernmental organization to advocate for migrants’ rights irrespective of their migratory status. All migrants are first human – so ensuring their human rights is basic. In this connection, during the current pandemic situation for both foreign nationals residing in Nepal and Nepali migrants in foreign countries, IOM advocates that it’s shared responsibility of both host and government of origin as well as employing company/organization to ensure safety of migrants wherever they are with full respect of their human rights. They should be treated with equality, dignity and respect irrespective of their gender and migration status.
Therefore, IOM keeps a close eyes on migrants’ needs such as evacuation of foreign nationals living in Nepal and the Nepali migrants in foreign countries and handling of the situation by the governments.   

According to the World Bank, the remittance inflow to Nepal is going to plunge by a whopping 14 percent this year, is there any way IOM can do anything in this regard?
That’s right, with job losses as we discussed above as well, the World Bank has projected that remittance inflow to Nepal is going down by 14 percent. Nepal Rastra Bank has also recorded that remittance inflow in past two months mostly after the nationwide lockdown was enforced is less by nearly 50 per cent compared to the same period last year. A reduction in remittances can have other major ripple effects on Nepali economy and communities, resulting in a decrease in productive investment, consumption spending and access to education and health services, ultimately has the potential to hinder the efforts made to achieve the development goals. As such, it is critical that action is taken to ensure that remittances keep flowing including through supporting greater access to and use of digital technologies.
With the view to leaving no one behind in the current crisis, it is essential that all stakeholders - policy makers, private sector and civil society - come together and focus on specific measures we can take in this regard to support migrants and their families. The government policy responses to the Covid-19 crisis need to include migrants in all short, medium, and long-term interventions to support stranded migrants, regularize remittance inflow, recovery supports for migrants’ families who have lost subsistence income, and access to health, house, education and nutrition. A coordinated approach between the Nepal Rastra Bank and migration-related stakeholders, specifically the Foreign Employment Board, to market the Foreign Employment Saving Bond can be conducted. In addition, the private sector can be better mobilized to increase the ownership of programmes targeted to returnees such as the returnee soft loan programme. Returnee migrants should be equipped with business training to help produce viable business plans, and a one-stop center for returnee migrants to access information on available resources and advisory services for potential entrepreneurs and jobseekers should be prioritised.
A mechanism can be established to recognize skills of returnee migrants and the aforementioned one-stop-center can direct and guide them to right field such as agriculture, tourism and small-scale entrepreneurship in any other sector. Now is the time to utilise those human and economic capitals into national development. Collecting data on returnee migrants reflecting their skills should be initiated sooner than later in coordination between all authorities related to foreign employment. This will help in formulating plans and policies for reintegration of returnees as well as overall skill development and employment programmes and plans.

The current Covid-19 situation seems to continue till almost a year now and movement of the migrants also seemed to be curtailed. How can the IOM help promote safe migration? 
IOM Nepal’s ongoing and proposed preparedness and response activities are aligned with IOM’s global preparedness and response plans to control further transmission and mitigate the impact of the outbreak, and aimed to contribute to the efforts of the government. Those activities are responsive to population mobility and cross-border dynamics, and that inclusive approaches which take into account migrants, travelers, displaced populations, and local communities, and counter misinformation that can lead to anti-migrant sentiment, stigma and discrimination are essential in the event of an outbreak.

Finally, do you have anything to say to Nepali migrants stuck in foreign countries due to travel restrictions or anything to overall Nepali people? 
Nepalese people have a proud history of picking themselves up ever stronger after every crisis, for instance the 2015 earthquake. You rebuilt your houses and livelihood again and made Nepal into a more resilient and stronger country than it was before in such short span of time. As in the past, we are together with Nepalis to get through this difficult days as well and your come back is not too distant future.
To the Nepalese who are waiting to come back home from foreign countries, the Nepal government has been in regular contact with the government of your host country to make sure the host government takes care of you, protects you from Covid-19 and ensures your safety. I believe you are in contact with Nepali embassy there and the embassy will coordinate for your flights soonest possible.
Please, do take care of yourself whatever the situation is. Take positive thoughts, try to have healthy and balanced meals, enough sleep and regular physical exercise. Speak to your family and friends through digital technology on regular basis. Do not read, listen or watch too much of negative news about the crisis. Getting an updated information only once or twice a day will suffice. You may visit IOM Nepal social media pages and webpage where you will find useful messages and information for you.

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