Help returning workers reintegrate socio-economically, labour migration analysts tell government

Chandan Kumar Mandal

As thousands of Nepali workers are returning from foreign labour destinations, stakeholders have stressed the need for comprehensive reintegration schemes from the government targeting the returnees to help them cope up with the impact of the pandemic and its aftermath.

According to the stakeholders, the government should come up with reintegration and rehabilitation packages for helping returning migrant workers sustain their livelihoods and those of the people dependent on them.

“We have collected data on the kind of workers who have returned home. Workers who lost their jobs and have no land to cultivate here returned with the hope of going back to foreign employment again. Some have gone back to agricultural work whereas others are doing something with whatever money is available to them,” said Susma Baral, a migrant worker in the United Arab of Emirates (UAE).

“There are also workers who say they will do whatever work they get in Nepal but won’t return to their foreign labour destination. The government needs to pay attention to these workers.”

Baral, who is also a member of Workers’ Network—a group of Nepali migrants working to ensure their rights, justice, and protection in labour destination countries, said the government should cater to returning workers by providing training or financial support for their reintegration in society.

“If they want to take up an agriculture-based enterprise, then they should be encouraged to do modern and commercial farming, and the government should also ensure access to the market,” said Baral.

“Their business registration charges can be waived off and other kinds of financial relief provided. Also, priority can be attached to migrant returnees for employing them in development projects. Reintegration plans should also consider women migrant workers.”

Since tens of thousands of Nepali workers are expected to lose their jobs and return home, providing them with the employment opportunities within the country remains a daunting task. Several estimates have said nearly half a million Nepali migrants are expected to return after losing their jobs in the countries hit hard by Covid-19, mainly in the Persian Gulf.

According to Jeevan Baniya, a labour migration researcher, the reintegration should start with recording details on the skills and experience of the returning workers.

“Although the government data shows that most of these workers arrive unskilled, they do have some skills. Therefore, their priorities and support from the government can be different,” said Baniya, who is also the assistant director of the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM) at Social Science Baha, a non-governmental think tank.

During the virtual discussion, on Wednesday, Baniya further argued that the local level should be given more responsibility for facilitating the socio-economic reintegration of returning workers.

“The programme designed and implemented by the central government might work for quick recovery, but it should go down to the local level,” said Baniya. “The federal government can provide technical support in drafting policies and guidelines, but local-level governments should handle the implementation as returning migrant workers ultimately go back to their villages.”

Baniya also urged the government to involve the returnees in the programmes and policies of the industry, tourism, agriculture and other ministries so that their overall reintegration becomes sustainable.

The government, through the budget for the fiscal year 2020-21, plans to generate massive employment opportunities in the country to absorb returning workers and also the new workforce. But there have been doubts about the government meeting the targets.

Rajan Prasad Shrestha, executive director of the Foreign Employment Board, the government body working for the welfare of migrant workers, said the government has prepared a socio-economic guideline for helping the returnees.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has focussed all the attention to the reintegration aspect of the whole migration cycle. All the existing labour governance related laws and policies talk about reintegrating migrant workers socially and economically in society and with their families,” said Shrestha.

“The new guideline, which will soon come into effect, is about promoting entrepreneurship and self-employment. The guideline has been drafted considering the trend analysis of returning migrant workers and the kind of support they might need from the government.”

Published on: 10 July 2020 | The Kathmandu Post

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