Author(s): Himalaya Kharel
Year of Publication: 2017
"We came here to the UAE through individual agents via India. The agents arranged all the required documentation, including visas and air tickets. We don’t know any of the rules and regulations in either Nepal or the UAE. We were informed that we would have to work as domestic workers and the salary would be good. But, since we arrived in the UAE we found everything different from what we were told in Nepal. We became commodity goods for local Nepali agents in the UAE, who supply domestic workers.”
This was the collective and common opinion of a group of 12 women at the Nepali embassy in the UAE during a short group discussion in March 2017. The statement insinuates that migrant workers still have no or little access to basic information regarding employment in foreign countries. Efficient and wider circulation of required information across the country is critical in ensuring informed, safe and fair foreign recruitment practices, and also to mitigate the existing trend of illegal mobility of migrant workers.
The government and non-government organisations have been exerting sedulous efforts to empower migrant workers through various means of communication and advocacy. However, the majority of migrant workers within the country and abroad remain uninformed or unaware of the most basic information regarding their rights and the migration processes. This signifies that the means and measures adopted by governmental and non-government organisations to provide information to migrant workers appear both inefficient and insufficient. Therefore, it is essential to identify effective and efficient means of information dissemination so that the maximum number of migrant workers can benefit, irrespective of the country’s geographical disparities and the centralisation of key actors in Kathmandu.
The Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB), an essential government mechanism responsible for providing information related to foreign employment, has been using various means to disseminate information such as radio jingles, calendars, hoarding boards, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, and stickers. Additionally, the FEPB also set up the ‘Migration Resource Centre’ to provide information via email and toll free telephone numbers to migrant workers. Likewise, various non-governmental organisations have been carrying out activities, such as setting up information centres at District Administration Offices in some districts, distributing leaflets and pamphlets, conducting awareness classes, and forming networks of people in communities to provide foreign employment related information to local people.
Moreover, the Ministry of Labour and Employment has introduced a mobile application, Suvayatra—Safe Migration, in May last year. This application provides information about foreign employment to migrant workers and families. However, the trend of deception, excessive costs of migration, migration via India, and migration using tourist visas to avoid the stipulated legal procedures is dramatically increasing. There are also many cases where the rules and regulations in destination countries are violated by uninformed migrant workers; they overstay on their visas, flee from sponsors’ homes and are found in the possession of “drugs” (such as pickles made from hemp seeds). This implies that the initiatives and measures appear to be inadequate and inefficient in providing even the most basic information required for the safe and fair mobility of migrant workers.
A 2017 Management Information System (MIS) report by the Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA) suggested that the number of mobile phone subscription in the country has reached 32,120,305 (121.23 percent of Nepal’s total population). Likewise, the number of people accessing the internet using mobile phones has reached 13,969,599 (52.6 percent of the population). These figures have multiple implications in developing a new and innovative way to disseminate information to the millions of migrant workers and their families in and out of the country.
Based on the data reported by the NTA, it can be argued that most Nepali people have access to mobile phones and many of them have access to mobile-based internet services. The huge number of mobile phone users also suggests that mobile phones have become the best source of communication, entertainment and information. Many migrant workers have expressed that social network sites are the most effective means of communication and provide a way to seek support and cooperation when problems occur. It is evident that many informal organisations in destination countries use social network sites to communicate with their members and share information about the activities of the organisation. Mobile phone and internet-based social network sites are widely used by migrant workers and other family members.
The circulation of information related to foreign employment using mobile phones and social network sites can play a crucial role in ensuring migrant workers’ safe mobility in both their origin and destination countries. Mobile phone-based information systems can be an efficient and effective means to encompass a large population considering the number of mobile phone users, the geographical landscape, and the Kathmandu-centred services of government and non-government actors. It may significantly enhance an informed decision-making capacity about foreign employment among migrant workers and their families.
Kharel is associated with the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility, Social Science Baha.
Published on: 30 May 2017
The Kathmandu Post