After seeing the news about FlyDubai racially discriminating Nepalese passengers, I recall some of my journey to Nepal here. In my experience, invisible racism and discrimination of Nepali migrant workers begins from immigration officials of Tribhuwan International Airport.
Abu Dhabi, International Terminal: 3
We have been travelling for last 15 hours and we are really tired. So we are lying about a chair trying squeeze our body and put feet on top of the handbag. In about 2 hours before the scheduled flight people start to gather in a small gate of terminal 3. Mostly migrant workers, all shape and size, age and gender. Some of them seem to know each other and start talking while some don’t know anyone and start showing smiley face to start a conversation: Where are you from in Nepal? Or Where is your hill home? Where did you come from? Which company you work for?
As most of the passengers gathered, it was noisy in the area and we decided to put our heads up and see what was happening. And about an hour before our flight some people seem restless. Every time there was some announcement of arrival/departure/passenger etc some of the waiting passengers would run towards the gate because they didn’t understand what was the announcement for. And every time they ran towards the gate the Etihad officials at connection desk would loudly shout at them to sit down with an angry face. And they would return to their seats quietly.
On the flight back, the way some people were running and the way the Ethiad officials shouted still shocked us. My wife was especially concerned and told me that it’s racist thing. She reminded me there were some French tourists as well among passengers and when they went to inquire after some announcement (just as Nepali workers did) the officials seemed much calmer and friendly and would explain that the announcement was not for boarding.
Etihad, Flight EY 0292 Economy
On the plane we had seat next to one very young looking migrant Nepali worker who was returning home from UAE. When the air hostess came to our seat offering drinks, the boy was confused. He didn’t understand what she was saying so my wife told him that she is offering drinks if he wants. He promptly said beer, and my wife translated that to the air hostess or probably she understood the word beer anyway. She then poured some whisky on a plastic glass saying there were no beer left. The boy wasn’t bothered and started drinking. But we were shocked again. My wife had translated what he wanted and when there was no beer left why would she offer him whisky and even wouldn’t bother asking him if that was okay with alternative. We now started to talk between us in English that this is something very humiliating experience for us as Nepali. The language barrier of migrant workers and the bad attitude or invisible racism of airlines employees were so prevalent all the way.
Tribhuwan International Airport, Kathmandu
As the flight landed, the passengers cheered and clapped. I can imagine their joy of landing in Kathmandu, probably with some money in the pocket, gifts for family and being able to hold the head high and most importantly speak and be heard and feel the existence of being.
But this happiness didn’t last long for many migrant workers. As Nepal’s immigration rule everyone have to fill up arrival/departure form in TIA and many migrant workers are illiterate or not able to fill up this tiny form. The way Nepali immigration officers and airport police were treating to those unable to fill up form were even shocking. Some immigration officials were heard shouting “You can fly, you can earn money, but can’t fill up a tiny form eh?” Me and my wife helped a group of elderly people who said were returning from visiting their children in USA and UK. After filling up around 9 forms we decided to run quickly to the baggage claim because in TIA, broken, lost and stolen baggage is a norm. So we had to make sure we go to claim area asap and get hold of the baggage.
On the way home in taxi from airport, we kept talking what would stop this discrimination and verbal abuse of migrant workers on travel. Can international airlines to and from Kathmandu be asked formally to make translator available on board and at connection desk? Can workers be given some Basic English lesson before they leave country, which would be useful during their travel? Can the menus in airlines operating from/to Kathmandu be made available in Nepali? Can the airport officials and police in TIA given some education on morality and customer service? Can government make arrival form available on board in plane so that people have time and can help those who can’t fill up forms? This was a practice UK did:- they did make international arrival form available on board through airlines before landing which gives plenty time inside plane for people to help those who can’t fill up from.