Ten recommendations for advancing Nepali migrants’ safety and well-being

Ten recommendations for advancing Nepali migrants’ safety and well-being

Ben Brewer

Group of people standing around a table holding string

In September 2023, IREX’s Navigator program met with our partners READ Nepal and People Forum for Human Rights (People Forum) in Nepal to collaborate on how to support safe migration of Nepali workers. During the meeting, IREX, READ Nepal, and People Forum identified several local- and national-level recommendations that align with IREX’s First Mile approach, which seeks to mitigate many of the potential risks and harm prospective migrants face before they migrate.   

Why safer migration in Nepal is needed 

A common refrain across the communities that the Navigator team visited in Nepal was: “Every family has at least one [family member working in another country].” But this isn’t just anecdotal. According to Nepal’s 2021 National Census, over 21 million Nepalis are living abroad (principally in Malaysia and the Gulf states), and KNOMAD found that more than 20% of Nepal's 2022 GDP was generated by Nepali citizens working abroad (i.e., remittances). Because migration impacts everything from individuals’ education levels to the local and national economies, safe migration is a pressing social, economic, and political issue.  

“Migration is the burning issue in Nepal – with the economic situation since the earthquake and COVID, scamming and desperation is on the rise. I’ve seen people lose everything, have no legal recourse, and even commit suicide. Even if the Nepali government starts now on economic recovery, 10-15 years would be needed to make serious progress - the issue is not going anywhere” – People Forum trained paralegal explaining their decision to participate in the Navigator program. 

Recognizing the challenges of migration, in 2018 IREX secured funding to launch the Navigator program to support safer, more productive labor migration by strengthening access to information and services for prospective and returned migrant workers and their families in their hometowns. 

IREX’s “First Mile” approach is based on the recognition that many of the potential risks and harm prospective migrants face can be mitigated by supporting these individuals before they migrate. Migrants often leave home not knowing what to expect and struggle to find trusted sources of information. By providing local civil society organizations, media, and other community partners with tools to develop and disseminate accurate information that aids decision-making and mitigates potential harms, the “First Mile” approach supports safer migration and creates more resilient communities. 

As part of the Navigator program, IREX partnered with READ Nepal and People Forum. Both READ Nepal, which works with libraries that support safe migration at the local level, and People Forum, which provides pro bono legal services and training for safe migration at the national level, are addressing several of the key challenges Nepal faces with foreign migration. The recommendations below—which IREX, READ Nepal, and People Forum developed—can help guide civil society, local and national governments, and others in advancing this vital work.  

nav comms
This photo, by the Navigator program team, shows an example of a migration resource corner in a READ Nepal community library. 


Recommendations to support safer migration at the community level: 

  • Train public teachers in safe migration. “Safe Migration” became part of public grade school curriculum in 2011 as an early intervention strategy designed to reach the high numbers of youth participating in or considering migrating to another country. Therefore, Nepali teachers need training to better address this subject and improve and update curriculum. Continued community and school outreach on safe migration should aim to inform potential migrants of risks and reduce social pressure to migrate. All information shared should address gender differences and local accessibility needs as well as strive to reach youth at ages where they are likely to be considering migrating to another country.  

  • Increase uptake of referrals. Community libraries are key to keeping migrants informed of best practices in migration and potential alternatives to migration. Improved coordination is needed between community libraries and service providers such as job-training programs and legal support organizations so that aspirant migrants (who are often youth) are aware of available options, including domestic employment opportunities.   

  • Provide digital and financial skills training. Migrants, potential migrants, and their families need digital and financial skills training to improve their understanding of how to engage in safe digital communications, make use of digital tools while abroad, invest and save remittances, and consider the long-term costs and benefits of both foreign and domestic labor.   

  • Increase access to mental health support. Community library staff noted the need for mental health and social support for migrants who have returned to Nepal and are struggling to reintegrate after negative experiences working in foreign countries. To improve migrant re-integration, mental health and other support services should be offered. Libraries are well-positioned to organize and partner with groups of returned migrants to support others in similar situations and publicly advocate for changes in the recruitment and migration processes.    

  • Improve ethical practices. Nepal has over 900 official agencies that recruit Nepali citizens to work in foreign countries. While these agencies are registered with the state, many of them use unaffiliated intermediary organizations to recruit Nepalis as a way to avoid accountability if unethical recruitment practices are used. Where possible, recruitment agents should be trained on best ethical recruitment practices. To further protect community members from unethical recruitment, librarians should be given support to identify ethical recruiters, access mental health and psychosocial support, utilize digital security tools, and have an active network of migrant support services including judicial and law enforcement professionals.  

  • Distribute information more broadly. Because information about safe migration, domestic alternatives to migration, and other best practices can be unevenly distributed or unavailable, migrants and potential migrants often lack information before and after migrating. Information materials, particularly with country-specific details and contact numbers of support services, should be provided to migrants during their recruitment and be shared more widely in destination countries. These materials should be updated to reflect changes in government policy.  

Recommendations to support advancing nepal’s migration law and legal system:

  • Offer free legal support to migrants and their families in their hometowns and in foreign destinations. Because unethical and fraudulent recruitment continues to be prevalent in Nepal and destination countries, no-cost legal support should focus on identifying ethical recruitment, creating mechanisms to make claims against recruiters/employers, and rescuing migrants from dangerous or exploitative employment situations.  

  • Expand training of professionals. Nepal’s government has undergone significant decentralization, which has shifted more responsibility for safe migration to local governments. As this shift has occurred, multiple civil society, governmental, law enforcement, and judicial stakeholders continue to require training and technical support around the concepts and linkages between human trafficking, migration, migrant smuggling, and forced labor as well as the application of relevant laws across these categories.  

  • Support Judicial Committee advocacy. Judicial Committees, which are local committees formed to mediate and resolve legal disputes (many of which are related to foreign employment), need a formal mechanism to share recommendations with higher-level judicial officials or legislators.  

  • Advocate for legislative reform. A primary issue Nepal faces is that employment law regarding working in foreign countries is often established faster than it is enforced leading to protections and regulations existing in theory but not necessarily in practice. To facilitate the successful and timely resolution of relevant cases, national reform to the laws used to prosecute trafficking and forced labor offenses is needed. Agencies working to address these issues need increased inter-agency coordination and capacity for referrals to victim-service providers. 

As the Navigator program is nearing its completion, one of IREX’s priorities during its visit in September was to support READ Nepal and People Forum in sustaining their programming; fortunately, both partners agreed to continue their collaboration and joint advocacy on behalf of migrant workers, reaching consensus around the above recommendations. Meanwhile, IREX is committed to supporting our partners and promoting these goals, while continuing to research and support efforts to reduce foreign migration risks throughout Nepal and other high-risk areas.