x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Nepalese maids flout ban on travelling to Gulf

Despite a government ban, Nepalese women continue to travel to the Emirates through illegal channels seeking work.

ABU DHABI // The government of Nepal banned the deployment of housemaids in Gulf countries eight years ago, but Nepalese women continue to travel to the Emirates through illegal channels seeking work. Arjun B Thapa, Nepal's ambassador to the UAE, said his government imposed the ban in 2000 because of complaints that Nepalese maids were being mistreated.

"There were many complaints coming from certain Gulf countries about a pattern of abuse and mistreatment, including sexual harassment, suffered by housemaids," he said. "Instead of pointing a finger to a single country, our government imposed it on all Gulf countries." To circumvent the ban, Nepalese women used a third country to reach the UAE, he said. "Our government is put in an awkward position since they are using the territory of another country to come here to the UAE. I don't want to name that country."

Mr Thapa, who became ambassador in January, said the embassy occasionally received reports of Nepalese women arriving in the UAE to work as maids. "Not all the cases of abuse and harassment are reported to us, so we do not have the exact number of Nepalese housemaids in the UAE," he said. "We only come to know about them when they ask us to rescue them and send them home." Prakash Pautel, the first secretary at the embassy, estimated the number of Nepalese housemaids in the country at between 1,000 and 2,000, although other Nepalese sources in the UAE said there were more than 3,500.

Mr Pautel said the number of cases of abuse the embassy heard of was "negligible", but he noted that most were not reported. He said the embassy handled two or three cases in 2007 but five or six housemaids had asked for repatriation assistance this year. Early this year, the embassy repatriated two sisters who worked in Abu Dhabi as housemaids. They said they were overworked and poorly paid. The embassy co-ordinated with their sponsor and the immigration department for the cancellation of their visas and they received free tickets to Kathmandu from Yeti Airlines, the national carrier of Nepal.

Rajendra Tevkota, a Nepalese community leader, said there were more than 3,500 Nepalese housemaids in the UAE. "There is a recruitment agency in Ajman who hires them and distributes them to the different Emirates," he said. "Most of the housemaids work in Dubai. They are only paid Dh500 to Dh600 [US$136 to US$164] a month. "The housemaids have to travel to India and from there take a flight to Dubai or Sharjah since they cannot fly directly from Nepal due to the ban."

Mr Tevkota said some housemaids were well treated, but most complained of excessive work, inadequate rest and payment delays of three to four months. "We have requested our labour minister when he came to Abu Dhabi early this year to lift the ban, to prevent Nepalese housemaids from using illegal channels. He promised to look into it," Mr Tevkota said. There are 100,000 Nepalese in the UAE, of whom 30,000 to 40,000 live in Dubai and the northern Emirates. Most work in the construction and service industries, many as security personnel.