Deadly risks in­crease for work­ers abroad

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Kathmandu

A tiny young woman crouches just out­side the air­port, cry­ing softly into her thin shawl. It’s cold, but her sleep­ing tod­dler is warm in her arms.

Trav­el­ers swarm around: Hi­malayan trekkers load up ex­pe­di­tion back­packs. A Chi­nese tour group boards a bus. A dozen flight at­ten­dants in crisp blue suits and heels click by.

Saro Ku­mari Man­dal, 26, cov­ers her head com­pletely, a bundle of grief.

Hundreds of young Nepali men wave goodbyes. On this day 1,500 fly out of the Kathmandu air­port for des­per­ately needed jobs, mostly in Malaysia, Qatar or Saudi Ara­bia. But on this day, too, six come back in wooden cas­kets, rolled out of bag­gage claim on lug­gage carts.

Scrawled in black marker on one: “Hu­man Re­mains, Balk­isun Man­dal Khatwe”. Saro’s hus­band.

The num­ber of Nepali work­ers go­ing abroad more than dou­bled af­ter the coun­try be­gan pro­mot­ing for­eign la­bor in re­cent years: from about 220,000 in 2008 to about 500,000 in 2015. The num­ber of deaths among those work­ers has risen much faster. One out of ev­ery 2,500 work­ers died in 2008; last year, one out of ev­ery 500 died, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press anal­y­sis of data re­leased by Nepal’s Min­istry of La­bor and Em­ploy­ment.

In to­tal, more than 5,000 work­ers from the small coun­try have died work­ing abroad since 2008 — more than the num­ber of United States troops killed in the Iraq war.

The causes are of­ten listed as nat­u­ral death, heart at­tack or car­diac ar­rest — the men go to bed af­ter an ex­haust­ing day of work and never wake up. That’s what Saro was told hap­pened to Balk­isun, who was a construction worker in Doha, Qatar, build­ing a high­way for the 2022 foot­ball World Cup, when he died.

Now med­i­cal re­searchers

If my hands and legs could move I would do some­thing, but I can’t do any­thing.” Salit Man­dal, worker who fell from a bunk in Malaysia

say these deaths fit a fa­mil­iar pat­tern: ev­ery decade or so, dozens, or even hundreds, of seem­ingly healthy mi­grant Asian work­ers start dy­ing in their sleep. The sus­pected killer even has a name: Sud­den Un­ex­plained Noc­tur­nal Death Syn­drome.

About 10 per­cent of Nepal’s 28 mil­lion res­i­dents work abroad. They send back more than $6 bil­lion a year, 30 per­cent of the coun­try’s rev­enues. Only Tajikistan and Kyr­gyzs­tan are more de­pen­dent on for­eign earn­ings.

The mi­grants pay re­cruiters about $1,100 for the jobs. If they’re not tricked out of their earn­ings — and some are — they can send home about $300 a month.

Some come back maimed or dis­abled, like Salit Man­dal, who rolled off a thirdlevel bunk in Malaysia and smashed in his skull. He’s in debt, par­tially par­a­lyzed and lives with his par­ents.

“I have no idea what I’m go­ing to do, how I’m go­ing to raise them, be­cause I can’t move,” he says, gaz­ing at his three chil­dren. “If my hands and legs could move I would do some­thing, but I can’t do any­thing at all.”

At Balk­isun’s vil­lage, his wife falls screaming and cry­ing onto the road and is car­ried in­side. About 50 men carry his body to a river on a bam­boo plat­form.

His young son is pu­ri­fied, dipped naked in the river. He’s wrapped in white cloth. And with his un­cles’ hands guid­ing his own, he takes a bundle of burn­ing twigs and lights his fa­ther’s fu­neral pyre.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.