By Om Tat Sat,
Thousands of Nepalese lost their jobs when worldwide lockdown forced them to be stranded in the countries where they had gone to work. Students abroad also met the same fate. The only thing they wanted to be back home to tide over the deadly threat hitting the humanity. Nepal government’s response was: Absolutely NOT!
After two and a half months of lockdown, people were starting to fidget and the youth actually risked everything and came to the street to show their displeasure regarding government’s absolute failure in taking the right steps to ameliorate the threats. Fearing that the people’s disenchantment might turn into open revolt, the lockdown has now been loosened. It is ironic. When the threat was low, lockdown was imposed in a strict manner, but now when the threat has skyrocketed, no precautionary measures are in place. People are acting as if Covid no longer poses a threat. What is going to happen now is that people will live with this threat and accept the casualties as they might come.
Nepal government has, nonetheless, has shown its true character once again regarding its responsibility and attitude towards the ordinary people. Its big NO regarding Nepalis to return to Nepal has now changed to YES. Therein lies the opportunity the Nepal government has smelled. Since the international regular flights are banned and will not resume before August, the government has decided to use chartered flights to bring in Nepalese stranded abroad.
Nepal government saw lucrative opportunities in two main aspects of the returning policy. First, the airlines, and second the 14-day quarantine for the returnees. Schedule for Nepalis stranded in 34 countries was published on June 11. Shockingly, the flight fare was increased by up to 300 percent.
324 passenger were the first to fly from Kuwait City in two flights. Then other countries followed. The reality came out that the minister of Culture, Tourism and Aviation had a setting with three travel agencies and only they were authorized to organize the chartered flights. Passengers were complaining about being charged three times the normal price and not even receiving the receipt. What was more absurd was that when the Jazeera Air offered to bring in Nepalis free of charge, their permission was cancelled. So, this shows the intention of the concerned ministry with no doubt left. However, people filed a case in the Supreme Court, and got a ruling that Nepal government had to bring in the migrant workers free of charge. After this ruling, Nepal embassies are getting active in charging airfare to workers oversees, up to Rs. 20,000 higher prices than normal. For this, the embassies asked for permission to use foreign airlines, instead of Nepal airlines. Along with the migrants, 23 corpses have also been brought in to be handed over their families.
If it were not enough, additional scandal was created regarding the quarantine stay. The report came out that the government was choosing expensive hotels over the cheaper alternatives. Government decided that those returning home would have to pay for their own stay in quarantine hotels in Nepal selected in Chitwan, Bhairahawa, Pokhara and Kathmandu.
People have been speaking about the dual standard and discrimination by the Nepal government in repatriation. When the 174 students trapped in China was rescued four months ago, they were all provided free service for travel and quarantine. But the poor workers in the Gulf countries who have run out of money and have faced hunger are being sucked out of their earnings and savings.
It is easy to observe the trend and the intention of those in authority by their action and policy in this time of distress when people are falling into hard times. Instead of trying to understand their pain and offer assistance in every possible ways, Nepal government has done the opposite, It has prioritized commissions over compassion.
The writer is a graduate of Arizona State University in Political Science. He is working as a social activist and motivational speaker for students across Nepal since 2007. He also blogs at Strong Blog.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necesarily reflect the official policy or position of Nepalisite.