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Indefinite strike affects overseas migrant workers

[Nepal] Hundreds Hundreds of overseas migrant workers have been stranded in the capital due to the indefinite national strike. [Date picture taken: 04/17/2006]
Hundreds of overseas migrant workers have been stranded in the capital due to the indefinite national strike (Naresh Newar/IRIN)

Hari Lamsal has been coming to the bus station every day for the past 12 days hoping that he will be able to travel to his home village in Tanahu, 150 km west of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. He has less than a week to collect his cash, employment contracts and other travel documents before proceeding to Dubai, where he has the good fortune of landing a security guard job. But with the recent political turmoil intensifying, he is already on the verge of losing that rare opportunity.

Not a single bus has moved out of the capital for nearly a fortnight given an indefinite nationwide strike called by the seven main opposition parties, who have organised mass protest demonstrations against King Gyanendra to force him from absolute rule and restore democracy.

On 1 February 2005, the Nepalese king assumed direct rule after suspending the democratic government, accusing it of failing to crush the Maoist insurgents, who have been waging an armed rebellion against the state for the last 10 years. For the last 14 months, he has ruled the country directly with a handful of staunch royalist ministers.

In a bid to strengthen the protest against the royal regime, the main democratic parties have launched heavy mass campaigns all over the country from the major cities to the remotest villages of this Himalayan kingdom of 28 million.

In the last 12 days, the numbers of demonstrators have increased to an estimated 2.5 million, according to local human rights group, Insec, which has been documenting on a daily basis the incidents of abuses at the hands of the security forces against the peaceful demonstrators.

But while the parties agree that the democratic movement has already gained momentum, there is also concern growing among civilians about their increasing loss of income and rising job insecurity.

“I just wish that the parties would halt the strike for just a few days so that we could go back home,” said Lamsal, who requested that journalists raise this issue with the party leaders.

Like Lamsal, many other migrant workers were planning to approach leaders to plead for their safe return home but now they are too afraid of doing so. Already a bus heading towards east Nepal was set on fire and destroyed, according to an association of bus entrepreneurs, who requested anonymity for fear of being labelled anti-democratic.

“We do not have the courage to even ask the demonstrators to help us. You have the power,” said Santa Bahadur Thapa to local journalists. Thapa has to return to his job by 20 April but he is already running out of time. He has all his papers and luggage back in his village.

According to the migrant workers queuing up at the capital’s main bus station, hundreds of them are stranded. Each of them has already paid over US $1,500 to employment agencies to process their visa and find them work in the Gulf region, where over 400,000 Nepalese are estimated to be working in Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

“The risks are too high and we cannot launch our service even if we wanted to for humanitarian reasons,” said Janardhan Karki, a bus entrepreneur, who explained that the main roads were all blocked with huge rocks and logs.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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