Kathmandu: The European Union is among a generous Covid support providers to Nepal. The member countries like France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia, Austria, Italy and Sweden have been sending various equipment and supplies such as oxygen gas cylinders, oxygen concentrators, home care kits, diagnostics including antigen test kits, PPEs, masks, ventilators etc help Nepal to fight against Covid-19. Shipments of medical support have arrived in Nepal from France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Malta, and Spain among other countries. On March 21, Nepal received 348,000 doses of AstraZeneca ‘Covishield’ vaccines under COVAX Facility, of which the EU is one of the largest funders.
How did Nepal’s ambassadors coordinate the process? What role did they play during the pandemic to secure help for Nepal? Gahendra Rajbhandari, the Ambassador of Nepal to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg and the Head of Mission to the European Union and Dipak Adhikari, the Ambassador of Nepal to France shared their experiences with Nepal Live Today.
‘Meeting with President of European Commission was a turning point’
Gahendra Rajbhandari, Ambassador of Nepal to Belgium
I arrived in Brussels in November, 2020. At the time, Covid situation was under control in Nepal but in Belgium, the second wave was at its peak. Infection rate and death toll was high. People were suffering. The pandemic had affected the economy, social structure and livelihood in Belgium as well as in other EU member countries.
The countries here had adopted strict restrictive measures. There was a night curfew. Everybody was working from home. Our attention was focused on understanding the situation of Nepalis here. Nepalis living here were suffering because many of them had lost their jobs, and those in business were in equally big trouble.
Gradually, things were changing here, the curve had been flattened a little and life was returning to normalcy. But the second wave started to take a toll in Nepal.
To secure help for Nepal, meetings had to be done but in-person meetings were not possible. Everything had to be done virtually. Yet, we started to make a request to the officials of the EU. It was pretty awkward for us to ask for help because the EU countries themselves were suffering. If the crisis was only at one end of the globe the situation would have been different. But the whole world was in crisis.
Once the situation started to become a little normal, then we started to take the initiative. I had the opportunity to meet the President of European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on May 11 and I explained to her about the situation in Nepal. That meeting was an opportunity for me to communicate the seriousness of the crisis in Nepal. She listened to our concerns seriously and assured us that the EU is with us at this critical moment.
This meeting was pivotal for me to contact other high officials of the EU. Soon, the EU announced the assistance of two million Euros for Nepal. This was the first support from the EU. It was easier for me to communicate with EU officials because the EU headquarters are based in Brussels. What also made it easier for us to explain the situation of Nepal was the article of Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli in The Guardian. PM’s article internationalized the crisis of Nepal. This sent the message to the world that the situation in Nepal is really critical.
We worked under the guidance and coordination of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The EU delegation in Kathmandu also played a vital role. In fact, the EU office in Kathmandu and my office here in Brussels were working for the same goal. Foreign Ministry also started its coordination with EU mechanisms. Then the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid became active for Nepal. The EU’s support for Nepal at this moment means a lot because the EU countries themselves are only just emerging from the serious Covid crisis they were in.
We had perfect coordination among Nepali ambassadors in Europe. This coordination helped us secure support from the EU member states for Nepal. The Embassy officials at my mission also have been diligently working for this purpose.
When I saw that the situation could become much worse in Nepal, I personally took the initiative to start communicating with philanthropic organizations, doctors and hospitals. I approached hospitals and Nepali communities here. The University Hospital of Antwerp has recently handed over 20 oxygen Concentrators and Nepalis living in Belgium have already sent 20 oxygen concentrators to Nepal. They are also going to install an oxygen plant in Gandaki province. Nepalis in Belgium have done a lot on their part.
We are in communication with the EU mechanisms and we are asking for vaccine support too. The concerns they show for Nepal is so overwhelming, and we deeply appreciate it.
‘It was pretty awkward having to ask the country in tragedy for help’
Dipak Adhikari, Ambassador of Nepal to France
France was under its first lockdown on March 17, 2020, when Nepal was in a comfortably better situation in terms of Covid outbreak. France is the country with the highest death rate in Europe after the UK. France witnessed three rounds of national and one regional lockdown
For Nepal, France became one of the countries to provide generous assistance to fight the Covid-19. France gave to Nepal 504,000 FFP2 masks; 20,225 antigenic test kits; 12,000 protection glasses; and 14 respirators including consumables. The aircraft carrying these supplies landed in Kathmandu on June 2.
When France went on lockdown in 2020, many Nepalis—students, those doing business and those living and working here—were particularly hit hard. For us, the first thing to do was to request the authorities here to extend help to Nepali citizens to ensure their health and wellbeing. Nepalis, especially the students and visitors, were in a desperate situation.
Requests to the French government were sent by both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal and Embassy of Nepal in Paris asking for assistance, protection and medical care to Nepali nationals living in France. The Embassy received the assurances of full support and protection from the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.
The French government extended full support to the Nepalis including the automatic extension of their visa without additional fee. We also assured them of reciprocal help and treatment to the French citizens in Nepal. The Government of Nepal extended cooperation to the French Embassy in Kathmandu in repatriation of French nationals from Nepal.
In Nepal, we were also worried about the situation in France. After five days of national lockdown in France, President of Nepal sent a letter to her French counterpart expressing condolences and sympathies for the loss of lives of French people and wishing for early recovery to those who were suffering from the Covid-19.
The first five months of the year 2021 proved to be very difficult for France. European countries themselves had been battered by the pandemic. On May 7, the day I went to the Foreign Ministry of France with a letter from the Embassy to request for assistance as per the directives from the foreign ministry, the death toll was over 106,000 in France. Countries in Europe including France, until recently, were depending on supplies from other countries. And we were asking for support from France.
It was pretty awkward having to appeal to the country for help, the country which had seen the worst tragedy. We said, we are aware of the difficult situation you are going through at the moment but in terms of intensity, these days we are suffering much more back home. It was difficult to ask for help at such a moment but not asking for help was no option.
The foreign ministry’s response was very positive. They sent medical supplies through the special aircraft on June 2. France does not produce its own vaccines but we have requested to use its good office in facilitating the allocation of vaccines to Nepal through the COVAX system.
It was not easy for a country which is itself suffering to give generously to another country. France supported Nepal despite being in Covid crisis itself. We are very grateful to them for their help. The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, in the letter to his French counterpart, expressed Nepal’s sincere thanks and appreciation to the Government and people of France for the medical equipment and supplies.
The long history of friendly relations between France and Nepal helped us to secure support from France. I met the member of the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament, and the Chair of France Nepal Friendship Group and briefed her on the current health situation in Nepal and requested for her assistance in providing vaccines to Nepal through the COVAX system. She has assured us of support.
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