IRAQ: Jobs Lure Lands 80 Nepalis in Soup

Since Nepal has banned the hire of Nepali workers in Iraq and any other country going through war or civil unrest, the unscrupulous agencies tried to smuggle the men in through India and Kuwait.
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The lure of highly paid jobs in violence-racked Iraq has landed into deep trouble 80 Nepalese workers who tried to sneak illegally into the banned destination via Kuwait.

The Nepalese blue-collar workers have been languishing in Kuwait for the past 10 months, with their visas having expired and money running out.

Though the government headed by King Gyanendra tried to hush up the latest incident of illegal human trafficking, the stranded workers' plight hit the headlines Monday when they faxed an SOS to the government that was leaked to the media.

In the SOS, the men said they had paid between Nepali Rupees 175,000 to 200,000 each to two Nepali recruitment agencies that had offered them jobs in Iraq.

Since the government has banned the hire of Nepali workers in Iraq and any other country going through war or civil unrest, the unscrupulous agencies tried to smuggle the men in through India and Kuwait.

But the plan came unstuck in Kuwait and the men were left stranded there while the recruitment agencies vanished without contacting them.

The appeal to the government, signed by 50 of the stranded workers, accused a Kathmandu-based recruitment agency, River Manpower, of duping them. However, the agency issued a denial, saying it was not involved.

There was no immediate response to the government though an earlier Iraq job scam in August 2004 that led to the death of 12 Nepalis after they were abducted by a militant group that beheaded one of the workers and gunned down the rest, had triggered nationwide violence.

The video of the executions, posted on the internet, led to violence and arson in Nepal, forcing the government to clamp down curfew. Two more people were killed in the violence and recruitment agency offices were ransacked and set on fire by angry mobs.

Despite the tragedy, the government has not been able to control the illegal employment of Nepalis in Iraq. Unofficial estimates put the number of Nepalis in Iraq, working mainly as guards and cooks, between 15,000 and 17,000.

"The government has not acted against these recruitment agencies though we have been urging for strong action," said Dan Bahadur Tamang, former president of Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies, an umbrella organisation of licensed manpower firms.

"If immediate action is not taken, there will be similar tragedies in Afghanistan as well."

According to Tamang, 700 to 1,000 Nepalis are currently employed in Afghanistan as cooks, construction workers and guards.

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