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Thousands of Nepali migrants lose farms in debt bondage

Reuters - 24 March 2015 - Thousands of Nepali farmers have fallen into debt bondage and lost their land after paying exorbitant fees to agents for jobs abroad, and the government is trying to secure the rights of two million Nepali migrants, a government official said on Tuesday.

Thousands of Nepali farmers have fallen into debt bondage and lost their land after paying exorbitant fees to agents for jobs abroad, and the government is trying to secure the rights of two million Nepali migrants, a government official said on Tuesday.

"The government of Nepal is serious about this matter," Uttam Kumar Bhattarai, a senior agricultural ministry official, said after a speech at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Human rights groups have criticised Nepal for not doing enough to protect its overseas workers from human trafficking and debt bondage.

Unscrupulous agents in Nepal and countries where jobs are available are charging migrants thousands of dollars for visas and transport, leaving them deep in debt before they have even started work, said Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Many Nepali workers are victims of this "transnational scam", and the government is not doing enough to protect them from illegal recruitment fees and subsequent bondage, McGeehan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Migrants often have to use their ancestral land as collateral for loans from visa agents who promise them large salaries overseas. If a worker cannot pay back the loans because the salary is lower than promised, or if he is injured and cannot work, the agent takes control of his land.

"It's a trafficking system in many ways," McGeehan said. "The debt people incur makes them highly vulnerable to forced labour", as they fear going home without money, even if they are working in hazardous conditions or are treated badly.

Figures on how many small farmers have lost their land because of unpaid debts to migration agents are not readily available.

But Nepali government officials did not dispute rights groups' assertions that "tens of thousands" have had to sign over their farms to pay migration-related debts.

More than two million Nepalis - almost 10 percent of the population - work overseas, the Nepal Institute for Development Studies reported. Many head for oil-rich Gulf states looking for jobs as manual labourers.

Remittances account for more than 28 percent of Nepal's GDP, according to World Bank figures.

Human rights groups believe the government is reluctant to protect migrants more vigorously for fear of upsetting countries that provide jobs and jeopardizing remittances.

Nepali government officials say they are working on improving local agriculture so that farmers can stay at home and not come under pressure to migrate.

"We are capitalising on remittances to help them (returning migrants) save," Nepal agriculture ministry official Rajendra Prasad Adhikari told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"More jobs should be created (in Nepal)."

 

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Source: http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/03/24/food-nepal-migration-debt-idINKBN0MK28Y20150324

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