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Nepalese migrants seeking better life ripped off by unregulated middlemen, says new report

​Migrants traveling from Nepal to work in the Gulf States, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, not only face hardships once they arrive, but financial exploitation before they board the plane says new research. 


The report ‘Migration from the margins’ from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) – Britain’s top international development think tank – says people in the Western Nepal district of Rolpa borrow the equivalent of one year’s entire household expenditure on food, housing, clothing, education and healthcare (around US$1265) to hire middlemen in a notoriously under regulated system.

In Rolpa – a once war-torn, remote area of Nepal with high levels of poverty – there are limited employment opportunities beyond farming, but with fees for migration totalling up to $2500 per person, the poorest households cannot afford to send family members to work abroad.

“Migrants have no option but to pay an agent to arrange passports, tickets and visas, but their lack of familiarity with the rules, combined with the desperation to find well-paid work, makes them highly exploitable to these migration middlemen,” said ODI researcher and report author Jessica Hagen-Zanker.

People usually take informal loans for migration from neighbours or community-based lenders; an amount that can take years and years to pay back says the report.

Having handed the money over, migrants are kept in the dark and have no idea what to expect. “Agents have been known to withhold basic information about contracts for months on end, sometimes only telling migrants when and where they are going less than 24 hours before they board the plane,” said Ms Hagen-Zanker.

Migrants told researchers:

·         “People here are cheated before they leave Nepal. They don’t know about the cost of a passport, so will be cheated by the agents. If I pay 80,000 rupees (approximately US$800) to the agent, [out of this] we might have to pay 20,000 for the ticket and the agent will devour 60,000 rupees”.

·         “[the contract] was written in English. There would be no chance to seek help from people who know English because we would be in hurry as I was given the passport and other documents four hours before the flight.

An investment in local employment opportunities and stricter enforcement of existing regulation surrounding migration are necessary to improve the situation for workers from Rolpa says the report.

Remittances contributed 14.9% of GDP in 2006 rising to 22.1% in 2013. More than 1700 Nepalese people – 97% men – migrate out of the country every day, with 48% heading to the Gulf States. In 2011, 10.5% of Rolpa’s population went abroad for foreign employment (equivalent to 22, 450 people).  

This research was conducted by the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC), a six year global research programme, led by ODI. SLRC’s research partner is the Nepal Center for Contemporary Research (NCCR).

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To read the report or interview its author, please contact ODI’s media officer Clare Price on +44 (0)7808 791 265 or email [email protected]