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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 05:14 GMT 06:14 UK
Nepalis down and out in India

By Jayshree Bajoria
BBC Correspondent in Bombay

Bombay guest house
Many Nepalis in Bombay live in run down accommodation

Hundreds of Nepalis travelling to war-torn Iraq in search of employment are stranded in the Indian commercial capital of Bombay (Mumbai) due to an Indian travel ban.

At the mercy of illegal agents, some Nepalis have managed to return home - usually without money and passports - but most try to brave it out in the city's slums awaiting their chance to travel to Gulf countries.

One such family is found in a scruffy room in a small guesthouse up a narrow, dark and dirty staircase in a crowded lane in the Dongri area of Bombay.

Scared to reveal their names, they admit they are waiting for visas so that they can resume their journey.

Extreme poverty

Many of them hoped to go to Iraq, but following the taking of foreign hostages and India's travel ban, they are scared to admit it.

Sushil Karke
Back home, the situation is very troubled because of the Maoists. That's why many people are leaving the country to seek employment
Nepali migrant worker Sushil Karke

So now they say they are trying to go elsewhere in the Middle East.

"We have stopped trying to go to Iraq after all the problems that have taken place, including the abduction of some foreign workers there," one Nepali man says.

"Now we will go to whatever country we are sent to in the least amount of time.''

Many say that they have heard horror stories about their countrymen being stranded in Bombay, living in extreme poverty.

The problems faced by workers such as 20-year- old Sushil Karke stem from a ban imposed by Nepal on its nationals travelling to and working in Iraq following the US invasion last year.

Economic instability

The ban meant that the only way hundreds of Nepalis could get there was through Bombay.

''It takes less time to go to the Gulf via India," explains Sushil.

"Since travel to Iraq is banned, the agents take people to Jordan or Kuwait and from there to Iraq.''

Most Nepalis pay between $1,000 to $2,000 to agents for the purposes of travel and boarding.

Kathmandu street scene
The migrants want to escape Nepal's crushing poverty

They hope to earn at least $550 per month, a considerable sum for people from a country plagued by economic instability and a Maoist insurgency.

The UN estimates that around half the population of Nepal earns around one dollar a day and hundreds of thousands are unemployed.

By some estimates, there are over 200,000 Nepalis employed in the Middle East, taking advantage of the high demand for blue collar workers.

'Nothing to eat'

But their desperation to find work has meant that some agents are duping them, leaving them stranded in an alien city.

Father of two, Rakesh Pratap Rana from south western Nepal, wanted to go to Iraq but instead found himself in a slum around 40 kms from Bombay.

''I stayed there for two months," he said, "there was water everywhere due to the rains.

"There was no food to eat, no place to sleep except on railway platforms, under bridges, on the footpaths.

"To make matters worse, the agents did not give us the money our families sent us."

Mr Rana managed to borrow some money and call home so that his elder brother could come and take him back.

Nepal's Maoist rebels
The Maoist insurrection has hit the Nepalese economy

But he lost $2,200 and his passport to the agent.

Mr Rana explains that Nepali people pay money to agents in Nepal, who send them to Bombay to be handed over to their Indian counterparts.

But because of the Iraq travel ban imposed by the Indian government, Indian agents are unable to send them there, leaving them stranded.

'No complaints'

Bombay police seem unaware of the problem.

''We are aware that there are Nepalis in the city but we are not aware of Nepalese trying to go to the Middle East or Iraq," said Police Commissioner AN Roy.

"We have received no complaints of them being stranded in the city.

"Nor have any complaints been made that Nepali people have been cheated.''

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