Raju Prasad Lamichhane is thinking of leaving Nepal again to drive trucks in Qatar even though his father died while working there.
“What else can we do? We have no other source of income,” Lamichhane said, sitting with his mother and brother in the half-finished house he started building in Telkot village near Kathmandu with money earned in the Gulf.
“If I could find work here, I would stay.”
When he goes, Lamichhane will join at least 400,000 Nepalis expected to leave this year for jobs in construction and as domestic workers in the Gulf and Malaysia.
The treatment of Nepalis building World Cup football stadia in Qatar has come under scrutiny after a report by the British newspaper the Guardian that dozens had died on building sites between early June and early August.
Both governments dispute the numbers but say 276 Nepalis died in Qatar last year, 20 percent while working.
The deaths in Qatar, as well as in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, have shone a light on the huge migration from the landlocked Himalayan nation that got going during a 10-year civil war and has only accelerated since.
Nepal’s politicians have failed in the seven years since the end of the war to write a constitution, leaving the country in an unruly limbo that has soured the business climate and stunted growth and job creation.
Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries, despite the promises of the Maoists who rose up against a discredited
monarchy during the war and now dominate a fractured political system. Nepal is due to hold its first elections in five years in November but the Lamichhanes hold out little hope.
“The political situation will not bring any change, the government and politicians won’t create jobs. If I could find work as a truck driver, I would stay,” said Lamichhane, 25.
An open border allows Nepalis to move back and forth into India, and the government says it does not know how many citizens have left. About 10 percent of Nepal’s 26.5 million people are documented as being abroad, but most estimates say double that number could have gone.
The money they send back has nearly doubled in the last two years to $4.34 billion. It accounts for more than 20 percent of gross domestic product and supports consumer demand and government revenue through taxes.
People leave despite the risk they won’t come back.
At the Foreign Employment Promotion Board in Kathmandu on Tuesday, half a dozen bereaved families and widows sought government compensation for the deaths of relatives overseas.
One man said his 20-year-old nephew was electrocuted in a work accident in Qatar. Another said his uncle, a steel-worker in Malaysia, died in his dormitory after a week in hospital for stomach pain. One man said his brother was hit by a truck in Saudi Arabia.
The officer in charge, Yamlal Adhikari, wearing sunglasses and a Nepali hat, said while some deaths were inevitable, given the numbers abroad, the age of victims was a worry. “They’re dying young,” he said, “It’s a problem we must stop.”
Many deaths happen while the workers are asleep, which Adhikari blamed on a mix of the stress of paying off costs of landing a job overseas, moonshine alcohol and heat exhaustion.
Bal Bahadur Tamang, who heads a federation of more than 700 job agencies that place Nepalis overseas, and is also a member of the foreign employment board, said abuses - including withholding of wages and passports - were common, and workers were often obliged to take usurious loans to pay agency fees.
In the 12 months to July, the board paid about $1,500 in compensation each to 726 families whose relatives died abroad. Many more unregistered workers likely died: of the 276 Nepalis the government says died in Qatar last year, only 151 were compensated.
Lamichhane’s brother, Dilli, and his father, Shiva, worked for a company making portacabins. Shiva painted panels, Dilli said, doing 16-hour shifts in air heavy with heat and fumes.
Like many Nepalis in Qatar, the Lamichhanes said their terms tied them to two-year contracts and the company kept their passports. They put up with it because 900-1,200 Qatar riyal ($250-$330) a month was far more than they could get at home.
One day in August last year, Shiva Lamichhane returned to his dormitory, vomited and passed out. He died in hospital after 19 days in a coma. The family said the company paid the hospital bill and sent his body home. The cause of death was registered as coronary failure. He had no history of heart problems.
Critics say the decision last month to recall the ambassador after she described Qatar as an “open jail” showed Nepal’s government was more concerned about remittances than rights. Job agency federation chief Tamang said the political mess at home was behind the exodus.
“We don’t have a stable government ... there is no proper security for investors. If people had opportunities, they would stay and work for Nepal.”