Organized by: Mahnerda Pandey
My Name is Mahendra Pandey and currently I am studying at American University at D.C. I was a migrant worker in the Gulf. I am a Nepali. In 2006, when I turned 18, I decided to go to Saudi Arabia to work with my dad, who had been working there for over 14 years and with whom we had no communication for two years. I contacted a recruitment agency who charged me a fee of 55,000 Nepali Rupees (the equivalent of 550 USD). It was very difficult for me to raise the money, but I finally got a loan using my house as leverage. After waiting for four months for the recruitment agency to send me my tickets and my visa, I finally left for Saudi Arabia in Dec 2006. The company took my passport to prevent me from leaving without their permission. When I arrived in Saudi Arabia it was the busy season of Ramadan and they made me work 16-18-hour shifts, 6 days a week. It was extremely exhausting. They gave me housing in their workers camps. When my mother fell ill and I requested leave to go home to visit her, they denied my request. During these six months, on my one day off, I would search for my father. This is how I came to know about many Nepali’s living and working in Saudi Arabia in poor conditions for minimal pay. I finally found my father after searching for months and sent him back home to Nepal. At that point, I truly realized how difficult it was for my people in Saudi Arabia. They have no rights or protection. I decided to go back to Nepal and start an organization, Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC) to improve the plight of my people, to protect the rights of Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf. PNCC works directly with Nepali’s in the Gulf to support them when they face problems like the ones I had. In 2011, I went to other GCC countries to evaluate the situation of migrant workers there, I was appalled. The situation was almost same to Saudi Arabia where workers are forced to complete construction projects in 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 85 percent of the Nepali migrant workers in GCC work for low-skill job mainly in construction companies doing dangerous work with no safety procedures and little protective gear. Companies seize their passports and the recruitment agencies or the “middle men” take almost 80 percent of a worker’s pay and the Government does not do anything to prevent this from happening When I reached Saudi Arabia back in 2006 I hated my job. Today, helping Nepali migrant workers in the Middle East, I am truly grateful for this opportunity to do meaningful work that I love. Unfortunately, thousands of my countrymen have been denied this right, to choose their employment and to enjoy their work. Governments and companies employing migrant workers, in the Gulf and around the world, need to improve their legal protection to lower the risk of death or injury and ensure that migrant workers are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.