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Updated: Nov 19, 2021

The one line in Nepal

Upon my departure from Katmandu and Nepal to Sweden, I found something very unusual: a separate check-in and gate for “Nepali Migrant Workers”. It took me quite some time before seeing the sign, for I simply thought the line of over a hundred people simply was the standard line for airport admission. For why else would hundreds of people stand in line in Nepal? It’s not like there is a social norm or behavior like in Sweden, lines and “chronological order for services”.

I observed other differences compared to my home country. Domestic flights: can depart at any given time. Domestic security checks: well, there are several but not so thorough. Almost like they had a bonus system for how many stamps and tags one could provide over one day, the more one gives out, the better the security.

How about the traffic? Well, let’s just say there are roads. There are lines, signs, and other helper functions for driving and transporting oneself on the streets. Do they work? Well, yes, I guess but not how we interpret it. Is there a traffic jam? Drive on the opposite side of the road. Red light? Well, if there is no one in the way, just drive and hold out your hand as a sign of a self-validating green light. Pedestrians walk or road? Never mind that, motorcycles fit as well. Blow your horn and zigzag your way through. “Tokyo Drift ain’t got s*it on me”.

Now, given that background and how I interpreted the way infrastructure worked in Nepal, could you see my shock, surprise and feeling of “well, international airports should function as one” upon seeing this colossal line before entrance? So, there I stood for a couple of minutes, and my travel mind got to work. Wait a minute, something is wrong. Either it’s me or…well, it’s me, I concluded. So, there I was, second-guessing myself like I tend to do abroad due to my urge to be sure and secure made me look around. Finally, I found a second entrance, A2, and saw the difference. A1 – “Nepali Migrant Workers” and the second sign, A2 – “it was something but more of a general message”. Well, I entered and stood in the check-in line. All was good, my bags and papers were in order, let’s go.

I entered the second security, just to enter a third where my other previous stamps from security one and two had no use, and after the third security check, I sat down outside the gate. Everything was in order. Let’s listen to some podcasts. I generally like a podcast called “Historiepodden”, a great podcast if you are into history and geeky teachers who are never in the wrong and would all but never admit it. Why I find this amusing could be for several reasons. For one, I love history, two, teachers are just like that, and you got to love them for it; hard to explain, but I find the stereotype on history-teachers trying to “//…//reach theseeee kiiiiieeedzz.//” reaffirmed every time I listen to them. If you didn’t get that quote, google “South Park Cartman Teacher”.

Anyway, back to it. Pod, airport, security x3 and Nepali Migrant Workers. At my gate, which was the only one open for all the flights that evening, I saw the upcoming flights. Dubai, Doha, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. There was more, of course, but these were destinations that were overwhelmingly overrepresented. It’s not that I don’t know about migrant workers in these countries from Asia suffering under horrible working conditions. I wrote a paper on it. Nonetheless, it was shocking to see how structured the infrastructure was for once in Nepal. In an otherwise chaotic and unstructured infrastructure, here was structure: separate check-in, entrance, lines, system and flights specifically for Nepali migrant workers.

I’ve been writing before about how I didn’t find a top-down solution for social challenges, such as human trafficking, or a will to address one from Nepali authorities. But here, it was so evident. Knowing the conditions and threat of ending up in modern slavery, Nepali people lined up in the hundreds. In the only structured line, there was to be found in the whole of Nepal. That was just astonishing, and not in a good way. Why people go to the middle east for work is hard to simplify, but let’s have a go here. Poor socioeconomic conditions, they strive to raise one’s standard of living, opportunity and promises of higher pay for abroad and unknowing of the risks that come with it. Simplified and unfulfilling in an academic’s eye, but I’m sure it gives you the picture.

The only thing that came to my mind upon thinking harder about the one and only structured line in Nepal is Nepal; you can create order. Given the will and energy the authorities put down to grant a structured and a systematic way for Nepali workers to work abroad, wouldn’t that serve better in the domestic arena? Raise the average level of education, focus on domestic infrastructure and projects and Nepal would maintain its labor force and upgrade it simultaneously. Maintaining experience, knowledge, skills in various professions and keeping money flowing domestically is an excellent way of improving one’s country.

“But hey, Nepal doesn’t have the economic funds that are required.”
-No, I know.
“And the middle east countries are run by the oil industry. Are there any natural resources in Nepal foreign investors can invest in?”
-No, that is true.
“So, how can they do this?”

Thank you for asking. Having this in mind while reading, I’m not an expert in this area, but given that there are millions of people in Nepal of working age, there is a vast labor force. Given the huge labor force, they would need education and training. That can be arranged. How? Well, there are international ways to go. Banks, states, corporates, organizations and individuals, all have funds to invest.

The problem in Nepal is that the country is corrupt, and that can be an obstruction. So, there are two key solutions for this. First, political stability must be obtained at all costs. With stability comes structure and long-lasting commitments. With structure, one can eradicate corruption. Because a structured state with competent state officials usually can eliminate corruption with precise and adamant decision-making. If there can be stability for many years, the younger generation will thrive and grow in a different political landscape. Upon seeing that things are going back to the unstructured corrupt ways, they will react.

The second solution, which entirely depends on the first one, comes to foreign support and investments. Smaller investments and bottom-top projects being made will help some but far from all. To achieve widespread social change, there needs to be a stable state and authorities. The more stable the state is, the more significant the investments will be.

I believe this is possible. All this from a line at the Katmandu airport? It might sound naive, optimistic, philosophical and even dumb, but you wouldn’t say that if you had visited Katmandu yourself.

I promise you; there is nothing even remotely close to what we call structure back home in Sweden and then suddenly, there is a structure in place at the one area one couldn’t expect; in the airport in Nepal. So, they can do it and they should see to it. Can they facilitate easier send-offs for migrant workers risking their lives and independence in Qatar? I believe they sure as hell can. It may just start from the very thing we take for granted by forming a line.

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