The history of organized labor migration of Nepalis dates back to the early nineteenth century. About five thousand youngsters were recruited in the British armed forces after the conclusion of the Anglo-Nepal war and the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816.
From this point onward, Nepali youths started to migrate beyond the borders aspiring for a better living conditions and better future.
In recent decades, the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006), and the atrocities that came along with it, triggered an upsurge in the volume of Nepali labor migration. Political instability and bad governance during that time further motivated the youths to leave the country. In the early 2000s, the increased demand of blue-collar workers for temporary employment in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Malaysia immensely increased the frequency and volume of Nepali workers heading to these regions.
In 2016, Nepal Institute of Development Studies (NIDS) revealed that about 2.2 million Nepali citizens worked abroad. However, the report did not include the people who left the country through illegal means. In addition, a report published by the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security (MoLESS) in 2020 illustrated that an average of about 300,000 labor approvals per annum were issued by the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE). These data show an overwhelming number of Nepalis are living and working abroad.
Evolution of NRNA
As more and more Nepalis started to work and live in various countries of the world, Non-resident Nepali Association (NRNA) was established on October 11, 2003 with the motive of creating a mutual network of global Nepali diaspora. The guiding philosophy behind the establishment of the organization was the conviction of Nepali diaspora: ‘Once a Nepali always a Nepali.’
To support the objective of NRNA to unite and bind the Nepali diaspora under one umbrella of NRA, the government of Nepal promulgated the Non-Resident Nepali Act in 2007, thereby providing a legal status to the Nepali community living abroad.
In the last 18 years, the NRNA has evolved into a leading global non-governmental organization with its National Coordination Councils (NCCs) in as many as 82 countries of the world.
The initial years of NRNA were steady with its mentors, pioneers and office bearers focused entirely on building a network of Nepali diaspora and expanding the global grasp of the organization. During that time, the organization gained momentum and won the trust of Nepali community abroad. But this quixotic honeymoon was short-lived as the political partisanship and petty interests in Nepal abruptly got the better of the organization.
Losing steam because of politics
Although the NRNA manifesto declares it as a non-political organization, the biennial NRNA jamboree that takes place in Kathmandu has lately been converted into an uncanny display of Nepali political partisanship. Political parties openly endorse the aspiring leadership and campaigning is politically aligned. The neutral and non-partisan candidates are almost barred from the proceedings. Taking a step ahead, during this year’s scheduled NRNA election that was later halted for indefinite period by the directives of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), the ruling Nepali Congress acquiescently deployed a number of its senior leaders to mobilize support for its preferred candidates.
I have personally stumbled upon some NRNs who are directly or indirectly involved in illicit activities of human trafficking and forgery.
In the global scenario, the NCC elections held in different countries are also politically biased. As a virtual witness of the proceedings in Germany, the last few NCC conventions mirrored the Nepali political culture–vocal opponent bashing and nasty fistfights were obvious. This is almost the scenario in NCC elections in many countries. The horrid footage of the recently held NCC election proceedings in the USA and the brawl in the park in Portugal are omnipresent in the web.
The directive of MoFA regarding postponement of the 10th global convention of NRNA and the subsequent election that were scheduled for October 23-25 has added fuel to the ongoing controversy. The directive articulated grave irregularities in the NCC elections in different countries including in Australia, Germany, Japan, USA, New Zealand, Denmark, Cyprus, Austria, UK, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal.
Above that, the MoFA had recently annulled the existing executive committee and had assigned the responsibility of holding the election of the NRNA to the patron council. To make the issue complicated, on November 28, Patan High Court issued an interim order not to implement the aforementioned directives of the MoFA.
Apart from the political intrusion, the sporadic illegal and immoral activities of the members and office bearers of NRNA in different countries are tarnishing the image of the organization. The recent human trafficking scam of the Malta chapter’s executives and unscrupulous handling of the blue-collar workers by some of the NRNA members in the GCC region are conspicuous examples of off-tracking of the organization. There is a feeling that NRNA is gradually being trapped in the clutches of money lords and business owners. Many individuals associated with the organization are established names in their respective fields in different countries.
I have personally stumbled upon some NRNs who are directly or indirectly involved in illicit activities of human trafficking and forgery. The general perception is that most of the NRNs, due to their connections with bigwigs of Nepali politics and bureaucracy, consider themselves superior over non-NRNs. This arrogance and inanity of the NRNs has further tarnished the reputation of the organization. The pervasive example is the ruckus created by an Australian of Nepali origin at Kathmandu airport during the last NRNA conference. In connection with this incident, the Department Immigration had issued a press release stating that the foreign nationals of Nepali origin repeatedly misbehaved with immigration officials at the airport.
As a Nepali living abroad, I am an ardent admirer of the NRNA as a global platform of Nepali diaspora. I wish for the prosperity of the organization and wish that it could truly become the organization that unites the Nepalis outside Nepal and contributes to Nepal’s development initiatives, in whatever way possible. But for that, NRNA should avoid certain things.
First, it should not fall under the shadows of political infightning and power struggle which dominate Nepali politics. NRNA should strictly abhor political influence and reestablish itself as a pure social organization. I earnestly hope that the executives and patrons of NRNA will do some soul-searching of its activities and work toward revitalizing the organization. This is the only way through which the NRNA will be able to realize its main objective: For Nepalis, by Nepalis.
Dr Pushpa R Joshi is a Senior Scientist and Neurobiologist based in Germany.