PNCC: Supporting Migrant Workers in Destination Countries
Interview with Mahendra Pandey, Founding Chairperson of Pravashi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC)
According to the data of Department of Foreign employment, half a million Nepali citizens migrated for work during January – December 2012, most of them heading towards Qatar, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia. Female migrants, largely in the informal sector, formed a significant part of this labour force. Additionally, a significant number of undocumented migrants are leaving the country through unofficial channels, mostly through India. We spoke to Pravashi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC) Nepal that has established itself as one of the organizations representing migrant workers, within and outside Nepal – assisting migrant workers, advocating for their rights and trying to ensure that policies reflect the voices of Nepali migrants.
- Can you tell us briefly how PNCC came to life – in Saudi Arabia and in Nepal?
During the Gulf War that extended to Kuwait, the Nepalese migrants in Kuwait organized themselves to form Pravashi Nepali Sewa Samiti to support each other. When the Nepalese Embassy was established in Saudi Arabia, PNSS was registered there becoming the first Nepali organization to be registered outside Nepal. The objective of PNSS was to respond to immediate needs of Nepalese migrants during their stay in Gulf countries, including legal assistance and voluntary repatriation. For this work, PNSS required a support body in Nepal and eventually in 2009, Pravashi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC) was born in Nepal to respond to this need. Soon after its establishment, it got affiliated with Association of Youth Organisation of Nepal (AYON), Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) and Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW).
The main focus areas of PNCC are:
Education and awareness among migrant workers, including establishing Migrant Resource Centers (MRC), capacity building of different stakeholders and mass awareness campaigns
Access to Justice to aspirant and returnee migrants and their families, assisting and facilitating legal services and through Rapid Response Mechanism
Policy Advocacy for effective justice mechanism and advocacy for human rights of migrant workers, including advocating for the ratification of international conventions on migrant workers
Rapid Response Mechanism through which PNCC provides immediate support to migrant workers in need thorugh its widespread networks of migrant communities, embassies, UN agencies and INGOs
Providing assistance for reintegration of migrants by advising on sustainable investment, including facilitating training on skill enhancements, capital generation and mentorship programs.
- What kind of support does PNCC provide to migrant workers?
PNCC tries to provide access to justice for migrant workers and their families in situations like death of migrant workers in destination countries, non-payment or under payment of salary, and fraudulent cases in the migration process. We help the migrants make claims for compensation and fight against unfair penalties regardless of their documentation status. In addition, PNCC has also been utilizing its physical and virtual (internet) networks to track and trace Nepalese migrant workers in destination countries. We come to know about the cases through our MRCs and try our best to process them.
- How do you reach out to migrant workers who are largely from the rural part of the country?
PNCC responds to migrant communities through its central office and Migrant Resource Centers spread across seven districts in Nepal - Jhapa, Mahottari, Chitwan, Makwanpur, Rukum, Palpa and Kanchanpur. These migrant centers are provided with a counselor and necessary information, education and communication materials. Furthermore, these centers have been established next to the District Administration Office which is a hub for migrant workers for required legal documents. These establishments being next to DAO receive frequent visits from community members. Also, PNCC has been supporting/backstopping two Migration Information Centers in Sarlahi and Khotang, established by Safer Migration (SaMi) Project. PNCC central office has an experienced pool of staff members and we are able to provide the migrating people with adequate information. The MRC not only serves as an information center, but also works as a bridge to support communities for required legal support and access. Through the centers, cases of migrant workers are received at the central office and processed free of charge.
- How do you provide support to migrant workers in destination countries?
In destination countries PNCC, through its network and outreach center in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, provides immediate support to migrant workers who are in distress or stranded. The outreach center works closely with Nepalese embassy and central office at Kathmandu to provide immediate response to stranded migrant workers. Since its establishment in Doha in September 2012, more than 30 Nepalese migrant workers have safely returned home and more than 200 Nepalese migrant workers have received services through these centers. Along with this, with mobilization of existing networks in destination countries, PNCC has dealt with more than 1200 cases to date. Also a full time employee of PNCC works at the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) to help facilitate governmental procedures for migrant workers, thereby helping to cut the risk of being misguided by fraudulent recruiting agents.
- What has the year 2012 been like for PNCC?
The year - 2012, has transformed PNCC in many ways. We started our Access to Justice programme and started assisting migrant workers in Qatar. We set up five more Migrant Resource Centers (MRCs) in different districts in Nepal. We assisted more than 1000 cases of migrant workers and their families, who came mainly from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Kuwait and Lebanon among others. We also received cases from countries like Syria, Kenya, Haiti, Japan, Canada, Australia and India.
Here are a few cases we have handled:
Krishna Tamang was deceived by her own Uncle who promised her a good job in Qatar that will pay a lot enabling her to have a good life. When she reached there, she realised that she had been duped into being a domestic worker. The salary was not as she had been told and her life as a domestic worker was very hard. So she ran away and took refuge at the Embassy in Qatar which then contacted us. We coordinated with Qatar Human Rights Committee and finally managed to pay for her air-ticket to come back to Nepal in November 2012.
Ramesh Mandal, a Nepalese migrant worker got himself jailed in Malaysia after getting involved in a fight among Nepalese migrants. His family contacted us and we with the help of ICRC and ILO managed to repatriate him back to Nepal.
Another case we recently handled was of a woman whose family had no news of her for many years. But after investigation we found out that she is fine and has not had any problems with her employer. She had made a choice to not keep in touch with her family following her mother’s death as she was tired of the family’s continuing demand for money.
- PNCC advocates for strong policies for protection of the rights of migrant workers and implementation of existing policies. What is your current focus?
In Nepal, PNCC now focuses on three major aspects: implementation of existing policy and laws and ratification of international standards in favor of migrant community and formulation of migrant friendly legal and administrative system. In the Foreign Employment Act we have provision for 'Establishment of a 'Foreign Employment Workers Fund' and its mobilization for social security and welfare of Nepalese migrant workers which shall include repatriating workers to Nepal, by the Government of Nepal or its agency. Many times a situation may occur when Nepalese workers have to be immediately brought back to Nepal due to a war, epidemic, natural calamity in the country where such workers are engaged in employment.' PNCC’s Rapid Response Mechanism deals with such situations.
We want the government to have a sustainable system that can respond immediately to the need of migrant workers round the clock.
- Nepal has recently banned women under the age of 30years to go to Gulf countries for employment. What effect will this have on women seeking employment opportunities in these countries?
Although it violates women’s 'right to mobility', I support the ban. My views are based on my firsthand observation of the situation of Nepali women workers in the Gulf countries, especially in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Lebanon among others. Nepalese women, working as domestic workers in most of the cases, are always at risk of being exploited physically, mentally, socially, economically and sometimes even sexually. I don’t think we can stop these abuses in the Gulf region or in Lebanon. Domestic workers make up more than 90% of total Nepalese women migrant workers. I have lived and worked as a migrant worker in some of these countries and seen the destitution and helplessness faced by our fellow migrant workers. I have spoken to returnee female migrant workers about their experience and their opinion and they have all strongly recommended that no female to go to these countries unless the Nepal Government takes steps to provide safety to its citizens in these countries.
My vision is not to limit or stop the mobility of women migrant workers. We should take all steps to ensure safe migration for female migrants who have the need and the right to go abroad for employment opportunities. Since there is not much that Nepal government is being able to do in the Middle East, the focus should be in finding alternative destination such as Singapore, Israel and Hong Kong where our migrant workers have relatively safe environment to work. Efforts should be made to promote safe destinations and discourage illegal migration to these dangerous destinations. Until the time that the government has infrastructure and mechanism in place to address the issue of safety and rights of the migrant workers, I believe no women should go there.
- What are the biggest problems faced by Nepalese women migrants?
Nepalese women migrants, as I have already mentioned, are at risk of all forms of exploitation, especially in Arab countries. Furthermore, their migration creates other negative impacts in lives of family members who are left behind. Many Nepalese WMWs have returned home with pain of being sexually tortured or raped. In this regard, I strongly condemn government policy of making money out of its female citizens in the name of foreign employment. Nepal government should work on creating opportunities in home country or search better and safer destinations for female migrants.
- Can you tell us the situation of migrant workers you witnessed in your recent mission in the middle-east with the GAATW?
Lebanon has been overlooked by the government of Nepal. Nepalese women migrant workers in Lebanon face many challenges. During our visit, most of the people we spoke to urged us not to send any Nepali women to Lebanon. The situation they have been facing in terms of work and individual life is a misery. Some of the women reported their colleagues not allowed to come out of their employers' house. They are not paid as per the standard, working hours are unlimited, weekly day offs are fantasies. Many women in Nepal have been trafficked or brought to Lebanon using irregular channels. Trafficking among Nepalese women migrant workers is high. The situation is similar in other Gulf or Arab states as well.
- What is the biggest challenge of your work in today’s context?
The biggest challenge for PNCC at the moment is the sheer volume of cases that are referred to us. In 2011 we handled 1000 cases, in 2012 it was 1500 and in 2013, we are just in April and there are already more than 1500 cases. So we are overloaded and over stretched. On top of that, we face threats from recruiting agencies. Recruitment agencies that operate illegal activities have political affiliation and with that backing they threat us with violence. These threats are another challenge that we face in our everyday work. Our work requires coordination with Ministry of Affairs Consular Section and Foreign Employment Department – sometimes these coordinations can be challenging too.
- You are one of the new members of the GAATW. What kind of support you feel you need from the IS that will help you in your work?
With GAATW’s affiliation we would like to look for ways in which the cases we work on can be discussed at international levels to influence effective policy changes, internationally and domestically.
Our work with migrant workers has shown us that there are overlaps with trafficking. We would also like to look into the nexus between frameworks of trafficking and migration and explore inter-linkages that can make our work much more effective in providing effective and timely assistance to migrant workers. We would like GAATW’s assistance in providing conceptual clarity on various frameworks and explore possibilities.
More information about PNCC at www.pncc.org.np