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'Natural deaths’ raise doubts

  • Causes difficult to ascertain due to Saudi ban on independent probe into migrants’ deaths




Around 7,500 Nepali migrant workers have died in the major labour destinations in the Gulf and Malaysia since 2000. Out of the total deaths, 3,500 were in Saudi Arabia alone.

What has puzzled labour rights activists more is the reason that the official reports cite for these deaths. A majority of the fatalities are reported as “natural deaths” and there is no further explanation, which, activists say, puts the incidents into oblivion. In the last three months, 65 Nepalis died in Saudi Arabia and the official reports claim most of them as “natural deaths.”

Nepal embassy officials in the Saudi capital Riyadh said since the reasons behind the deaths are confirmed by the local police after postmortem, they have no further information to explain what that natural deaths mean. “We too think that it’s unlikely for so many young people to die of natural causes. It baffles us thinking how could somebody as young as 20 die of natural causes while witnesses say he was doing perfectly well when he went to bed,” said an Nepali embassy official in Riyadh, seeking anonymity.

Though there has not been any thorough investigation into the causes of deaths, a study carried out in 2012 by the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), in collaboration with other stakeholders including the Nepali embassies in the major labour destinations, suggests various factors such as harsh climatic conditions, work-related stresses, cruel treatment of workers, alienation, ignorance of workers, unhealthy food habits. Foreign employment experts say the very tendency on the part of the Riyadh police to label most deaths as “natural” smacks of something ominous.

“This is something we must dig deeper into. Who knows, the deaths might be cold-blooded murders for organ harvesting, or the consequences of severe torture. It is also possible that the police tag the dead as natural deaths just to avoid investigations or any other procedural hassles,” said Ganesh Gurung, a foreign employment expert who has conducted extensive research on migrant labour issues. He said his observation of the post-mortem bodies raises some suspicion as most of the bodies were found to have been operated haphazardly.

The embassy reports have certified that only a few deaths occurred due to suicide, traffic accidents, alcohol consumption, work-related accidents and drowning. Another report recently released by Nepal’s mission in South Korea, which looked into deaths of 57 Nepalis there since 2007, also speaks of similar causes.  

“The available reports suggest that there should be more focus on pre-departure orientation and health check-ups. Having said that other factors like increased legal and work-related protection measures also play important roles,” said Divash Acharya, DoFE spokesperson.

Doctors and rights group, however, stress on the need of thorough research and investigation into the causes of deaths. They claim that the government has been repeatedly putting the blame on the workers and dismissing the incidents citing obvious reasons, such as stress, food habit, extreme weather conditions, echoing the Riyadh police.

Prakash Raj Regmi, a senior cardiologist, stresses the need for proper research. “It’s difficult to ascertain the cause of death. All we have been doing is generalising it,” he said.

Labour rights groups lamented that neither the government nor other stakeholders have been able to enter Saudi Arabia while they have a comparatively better presence in other labour destinations in the Gulf. “The lack of access in Saudi has made us completely unaware about the problem our migrant workers face there. We have no alternative but to rely completely on the embassy for everything,” said GEFONT President Bishnu Rimal.

Saudi Arabia has been resisting entry of rights group making it almost impossible to find out exact causes for such deaths.

“We remember making relentless efforts for 22 months to bring a corpse of one Roshan Giri of Jhapa. This incident gives us a clear picture of our government’s presence in the Gulf kingdom,” Rimal said.



Posted on: 2014-01-07 08:48