Nepal’s history of exporting human resources began almost 200 years ago. After the Anglo-Nepali war of 1814-16, the British army began recruiting soldiers from various tribal communities in Nepal, later to be celebrated as Gurkha soldiers around the world for their bravery and loyalty.
Almost two centuries later, Nepal’s manpower export industry has joined the long line of casualties of the economic pandemic that is circling the world. “My entire family depends on my income. They’ll starve if I don’t find a job soon — I’m ready to work anywhere in the world now,” says Rajen Thapa, a Nepali who recently lost his job as construction worker in the UAE.
Thapa represents the thousands of Nepalese who work unskilled jobs around the world, from the Gulf states to South-East Asia.
And like unskilled labour from anywhere in the world, they too are suddenly out of the door with nowhere to go.
Realising the importance of foreign employment for the economic growth of his country, then king Birendra introduced the Foreign Employment Act in 1985, which saw the outflow of Nepalese workers begin by 1990.
In the last decade, remittances by its overseas workers did much for Nepal’s foreign exchange reserves, and are central to its economy. That’s changing now.
“The global financial crisis is a big blow to Nepal,” says Rameshwar Sharma, owner of a Kathmandu-based manpower consulting company. According to data issued by Nepal’s Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), the number of Nepalese overseas workers is fast shrinking.
Sharma says the UAE government’s recent decision to cut the number of foreign workers by 45 per cent has already started to tell on his country’s economy. “We urgently need to find ways to bail out our workers from this crisis,” says Sharma.
There are more than a million Nepalese labourers working in the Gulf region, in addition to a large labour force in Malaysia – all facing an uncertain future.