"My husband has been working in Malaysia for 5 years. Gradually he stopped sending me money and giving me news. I had to leave my abusive in-laws and learn to fend for myself, with the help of my psychosocial counsellor."
Sajnaa, 28 years old, 2 children.
It has been four years since Sajnaa (name changed to protect her identity) received any news from her husband, or indeed from her in-laws. She was living with her in-laws when he left to work in Malaysia. If for a short time he sent money and was normal on the phone, gradually he sent less and less, then almost nothing. "When he was still taking calls, he told me that we don't have any relation anymore, it's your responsibility to pay the house and I don't care about your children. At the same time his mother demanded that he send the money to her rather than to me, and started to abuse me."
The relationship with her in-laws was getting worse and worse and her husband was out of contact and didn't give money anymore to her. Sajnaa decided to rent a room far from there and to move with her 2 children. She was sewing to earn a bit of money.
But with Covid, there were no clients anymore. She was devastated. Two years ago, she went to the District administrative office, who sent her to the Migrant Resource Center (MRC). When the MRC team met her, they realized it was not only a financial issue but she was also suffering from psychological trauma. Since then, Anusyia, a psychosocial counsellor from the MRC, has been accompanying her and providing her with psychological support.
In order to facilitate safe migration, psychological support and Migrant Resource Centres have been set up in many municipalities in the country. These are two elements of a larger programme, the Safer Migration Project, a bilateral initiative of the Governments of Switzerland and Nepal, implemented by the Government of Nepal with technical assistance from the Swiss NGO Helvetas. A project which, since the federalization of the country in 2015, has paid particular attention to its involvement at the local level.
Migration is a key dynamic in Nepal society. It is estimated that there are about 3 million Nepalese migrant workers, mostly in the Gulf States and Malaysia. And that's not counting the million of Nepalis who work in India but are difficult to count (they don't need a passport). More than 80% of the migrant workers are men. The vast majority of them have limited and erroneous information about the reality of migration. They often engage blindly with placement agencies that exploit them with false promises, exorbitant recruitment fees, or even confiscate their identity document.
Women are particularly vulnerable, either when migrating or when left behind being responsible for running the household. Indeed, remittances, the flow of capital from migrant workers to families, account for about 25% of Nepal's financial resources and is increasing year after year. But these women, these families, usually lack the education to manage often irregular financial remittances.
Providing accurate information
Migrant Resource Center are present in many municipalities, especially in the southern districts of the country, where many migrant workers come from. They are small offices located in the immediate vicinity of the passport application process offices. A visit to the MRC is now a mandatory step in the passport application process.
The vast majority of overseas work applicants are young men, as these two, sitting in the MRC of Biratnagar, in the Eastern Terai, a few steps from the Indian border. Both are 21 years old and say they are ready to leave immediately, if possible to the Emirates or Saudi Arabia. They are single, and justify their decision by a simple need for money. They hope to earn so much more abroad than here in Nepal. When talking to them, however, family pressure arises. Many of these young people are pushed by their families… They just want the obligatory MRC stamp on their passport application, but first Muna, the counsellor, takes the time to inform them about the reality of migration.
Prospective migrants follow each other into the office. Deepa is a 28-year-old woman who plans to work in a beauty parlour in Malaysia for 30-35,000 rupees a month. Although her family supports her, she remains hesitant. The information she receives from time to time from her friends in Malaysia and Jordan is not always reassuring.
Some of the day's visitors are also returnees, migrants who have already experienced life abroad, who have often returned because of Covid, and want to go back. But there are also those families who come to the news, anxious. Like Seema, this 17-year-old girl. Her mother works in Oman. A month ago, she called Seema for help, telling her that it was absolutely necessary to bring her back. Since then, she has not heard from her mother. Muna is starting a procedure to inform the authorities.
"Unfortunately, the reality of migration shows that very many migrants experience difficulties," explains Kopila Dahal, the Safer Migration Project's coordinator for Province 1. "There are many cases of abuse, here with the recruitment agencies but also in the destination countries. Some migrants are not paid, others are in prison for purely arbitrary reasons, women are confined by their employers, etc. It is essential for us to be able to give support to these people but also to their families who remain in Nepal. Moral support but also legal support. And we are working to raise the issue with the provincial and federal authorities."
"Every month my husband sends me money from Dubai. Since my training, I have been able to manage the repayment of the house, the children's education, etc. I am also able to save money, and I will soon start a small business."
Sujita, 25 years old, two children. Her husband has been working in Dubai for 6 years in the construction industry.
Low skilled Nepali migrants are often exploited, but migration also has implications for families left behind, especially women. We have seen that some of them need psychosocial support or have serious problems with their in-laws. More generally, it is mainly the management of remittances that requires follow-up.
Many migrant households remain ill-equipped to make informed decisions on the use of the remittances generated through migration. Another key element of the Safer Migration Project is to help these women and families to keep records of revenues and expenses, to save, and to make financial decisions. Financial literacy training are provided at village level through small group sessions.
This small group of about twenty women, sitting in a classroom at the Khanepokari school, have just completed their training. For six months, all these women from the surrounding area have been taking a weekly course in financial literacy. The aim is to enable them to manage the money sent to them by their husbands, their brothers and their sons. But also to develop their own activity, in order to become more independent.
Managing the remittance
Some of these women in the litteracy class have already made progress with their projects. Dilmaya is particularly active. While her husband has been working in Qatar for several years, she has developed a sewing business, she makes stuffed animals and she has also started a poultry farm. A little further from her house, in Kanepokhari market, Asya sells chicken. She has three children and her husband works as a scaffolder in the Emirates. "I used to be a housewife. I developed this small business three months ago. My older daughter sometimes comes to help me at the market on Saturdays, it is important for me to show her that I can also manage, be independent."
Some of these women, still single, took the training to help their parents. Like 17-year-old Kopalma, whose brother is in Korea but whose parents are illiterate and cannot properly handle the money he sends. Sujita, on the other hand, has just got married. She, too, had taken the course to help her parents. Now her husband is the one who benefits from it : she is the one who manages their milling services to the neighbourhoud.
Sometimes the roles are even reversed in the couple. This is the case with Yoshada. While her husband was working in Saudi Arabia, she started small-scale farming. A flourishing business, as her cabbage field testifies. After seven years abroad, her husband returned two months ago. "I used to depend on the money he sent me. Since he came back, he helps me in my little business, but I'm the boss," she laughs.