Nepali Migrant Workers Die in Thousands Earning a Living Abroad

Over 5,000 workers from Nepal have died working abroad since 2009.

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The number of Nepalis working abroad has grown significantly in recent years, yet the number of those who come return in body bags has risen far more dramatically.

Over 5,000 workers from this small Asian country have died working abroad since 2008, more than the number of US troops killed in the Iraq War.

Yet hundreds still continue to fly out of the Kathmandu airport bound for jobs mostly in Malaysia, Qatar or Saudi Arabia - jobs that are urgently needed by the people of this desperately poor country.

Many come back dead, in wooden caskets, rolled like suitcases out of baggage claim on luggage carts.


Among the more than 5,000 deaths since 2009, 30 percent are listed as natural deaths, other or unexplained and another 20 percent are listed as cardiac arrest. Most families are told their loved ones went to bed and didn't wake up.

The suspected killer has a name: Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome or SUDS.

Nepal exports iron and steel, carpets, some vegetables - but mainly, Nepal exports men, about 500,000 a year.

The unskilled workers, ages 18 to 40, build highways and houses in Gulf states and guard shopping malls and assemble televisions in Malaysia.

They borrow at 36 percent interest rates from money lenders or sell off family land to get the 1,100 US dollar stake needed for recruiters, airline tickets and more.

They live 12 to 15 to a room, sleeping stacked on three-tiered bunks, working 10 to 15 hour days, seven days a week, for years.

If they're lucky, and some are, they can come home with a wad of cash. Often, however, they are tricked or cheated of their earnings.

About 10 percent of Nepal's 28 million residents are working abroad, sending back almost 6 billion US dollars a year.

While it's true more Nepali migrant labourers seem to die abroad than equally vulnerable Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Indonesian co-workers, the reason for the increased mortality isn't clear, say researchers.

An international consortium is launching next year to investigate and hopefully offer solutions. (Inputs: AP)

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

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