SARAT DASH served as the chief of mission at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nepal from July 2008 and is now leaving for Bangladesh on his next assignment. During his tenure, IOM facilitated resettlement of over 60,000 refugees to eight countries and was also involved in offering extended technical expertise and capacity building to the government of Nepal in the areas of labour migration, counter trafficking, repatriation of conflict victims, border management and disaster risk management.
He spoke to Terence Lee of THT Perspectives about IOM’s achievements and focus areas in the days ahead. Excerpts:
What has been the role and contribution of IOM?
IOM is an intergovernmental organisation and the government of Nepal became a member in 2006, following which we started with a small presence working with the then Ministry of Labour and Transport Management, which was dealing with migration issues. We provide technical assistance and capacity building and in 2007 we signed the cooperation agreement with the government of Nepal and expanded our programmes. It was just coincidence that we had to start with the resettlement of the Bhutanese refugees. This problem has been around for two decades and the government has been trying to negotiate with the government of Bhutan for repatriation. But after 15 rounds of talks failed, the countries’ development partners offered to resettle them as a more durable solution. We had to establish infrastructure et cetera, and in March 2008 we resettled the first batch. Till date, we have resettled over 60,000 refugees in eight different countries. Basically what we do is get the countries to come and do the selection. We follow the medical protocol and provide refugees cultural orientation before they go to the particular destination. We also organise the exit and charter flights for them to be brought to Kathmandu for a few days, where they attend pre-departure orientation and medical exams. We’ve also been engaged with the concerned ministries on a range of migration related issues. At the request of the National Planning Commission and Ministry of Labour, we analysed the existing policies on foreign employment and provided technical assistance to finalise the Foreign Employment Policy of Nepal.
What other concrete steps did IOM take?
As you know, the government has been taking very proactive steps, with almost 1,000 migrant workers leaving the country on a daily basis. We have also helped in the finalisation of negotiable and nonnegotiable points in bilateral agreements, as protection of the rights of migrant workers is crucial. During my tenure, the first batch of labour attaches were recruited, oriented and sent to different countries. We also started working with the Foreign Employment Promotion Board, that tries to replicate the best practices of other employment exporting
countries. We helped to develop the board’s strategic plan for the next five years. We also conceptualised and established three Migrant Resource Centres that provide information to aspirant migrants so that they are able to make an informed decision and have better bargaining power when they go to recruitment companies. The government has a strong policy on compulsory pre-departure orientation. Some 40 organisations have licences to do this. But there is a gap and we have designed country specific basic information leaflets that are provided at departure at the airport and at the central passport office. We also designed a video which can be viewed at the departure lounge while they wait to board the flight. We also assisted the ministry with a study on the contribution of foreign employment and remittance. Besides this, we have also been working with the Ministry of Women and Children on trafficking issues.
How is IOM involved in the issue of trafficking?
When we looked at the issues, one area that we saw was that women rescued and brought back, if not provided economic opportunities, were vulnerable to becoming victims again. Economic rehabilitation is a must, as many are disowned by their families. Many are trafficked before they reach the age of attaining citizenship and the law does not allow the girls to apply for citizenship without the family’s endorsement. That puts them in a difficult situation and they do not get citizenship and that prevents them from entering the formal job market and attaining credit et cetera. IOM institutionalised an innovative programme that brought together corporate houses, civil society and the government. Corporate houses provided franchisee or attached their brand name and have provided job placement for over 200 women. The government provides legal support to establish these enterprises and the NGOs provide psycho-social counseling and look in at health and other related issues. This project is now appreciated as a role model that has scope for scaling up at the country level. We have been requested by the ministry to employ mobile recourses for such scaling up.
What are the challenges to foreign employment and migrant workers?
Foreign employment makes a big contribution to the economy of Nepal. However there are some issues that need to be addressed. One is remittance management, or the need to harness the development aspect of remittance. IOM is discussing with the government about including financial literacy for managing remittance. We have partnered with The Everest Bank and they match the amount the returnees are willing to invest to expand the scale for investment and to create employment. A couple of dairy farms have been set up this way. But in the name of foreign employment, a lot of trafficking is also taking place and that has to be checked and prevented through more effective multi ministerial coordination and involvement. The government has licenced some 800 recruiting agencies. Some of them are excellent but some are unscrupulous and the government has to come up with more stringent measures to regulate and protect migrant workers. There are also a lot of undocumented people working in different countries. The government needs to find ways to record them or it will difficult in a situation like the Libya crisis where workers may be stranded. We have to develop a crisis management plan to trace undocumented people and what prepare a crisis management plan in such situations.
What do you take back with you
from your experience in Nepal?
The first thing that will remain with me is the Nepali language, which I have learnt here in Nepal and I’m grateful to the many teachers who helped me with this. I will definitely miss the climate and weather conditions of Kathmandu Valley and more importantly from
a professional perspective, I will
carry back the excellent personal and professional support provided to IOM, which helped me accomplish my professional responsibilities.