Migrant workers from Asia and Sub-Saharan African continue to flock to the Middle East for work. Migrant workers are subject to practices that may amount to forced labour including extortionate recruitment fees, illegal confiscation of identity documents, withholding and non-payment of salaries, hazardous working conditions, unhygienic living conditions, unlawful overtime performed under the threat of deportation, and physical and sexual abuse. In 2015 an IOM and Walk Free study of 162 exploited migrant workers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, 100% of workers had their identity documents withheld, 87% were confined to their workplace and 76% had their wages withheld.
Deependra Giri was looking for work when he was offered a job with a good salary in Qatar as a clerk. Upon arrival, Deependra's passport was confiscated and he was taken to an industrial area where he was forced to undertake manual labour. Due to the Kafala system in Qatar, Deependra was committed to his contract and was unable to leave the country. After completing his 2-year agreement Deependra managed to convince his employer to allow him to go home for 2 weeks to see his family. Once back in Nepal, Deependra informed his manager that he would not be returning.
My name is Deependra Giri and I have been trafficked and er worked as forced labour in Qatar for many years in terrible conditions as a modern day slave. Later when I, when Monique came in touch with me and I was invited for Trust Women Conference in 2013 and ‘14 and she and a few of her friends they helped me and so I was able to start, I established an NGO called the safety First Foundation. And er we established that in 2014 and from that time we are like, we are moving in a very slow speed trying to help people, the trial against human trafficking and modern slavery. So that we can, as we know that we cannot stop people going to the Gulf to work but at least we can er give them proper counselling and aware them, like what are the things that they should keep in mind when they are going for the Gulf migration. So they should have their emergency contact numbers of the human rights in Qatar, the embassy of Nepal in Qatar and the labour court and all these things.
When I went to Qatar in 2008 I was, I had a dream that I will go there and I will have a decent job and a good salary so that I can er help my family financially. But at the same time I was aware that it’s er not, as easy as I’m thinking about that, dreaming about that. So when I went to Qatar, as soon as I get off, er went out of the airport, my passport was taken away and I was like, what is this going to happen with me. The guy who took away my passport, I didn’t know who was that person. So he took me to the industrial areas, er the labour camp, and it was midnight and this accommodation of the labourers was more looking like er, er, go down, you know. And he, as we bed he asks me that you sleep now and that you must be feeling tired and tomorrow in the morning we will take you to the office and we will talk about that.
So when I was in Nepal I was promised that I would be working as a clerk in an office, but er the next day when I reached the office, I met one of the operational managers of the company and he said that ok Deependra so you are here to work in the er go down, and you have to work as a, you have to lift heavy things you have to get it from here to there and you have to carry load and a load, all these kind of things. Then I was very scared because the first thing, they took away my passport, I didn’t know who took away my passport. I was searching that face in the office but I didn’t see that guy in the office who took away my passport. And second thing is I was promised that I will be working as a clerk. But there, this operation manager told me I had to work as a labourer to lift heavy things, which I was not mentally or physically prepared for. But one thing I made up my mind that I have travelled a long way, my family is far away from here, I cannot do anything. There is no one where I can, I didn’t know anything, who to go and seek help with you know. So I made up my mind that in any condition I’m going to work here and as I signed a contract that said I cannot leave the country without completing two years. And due to the Kafala system in Qatar, the sponsorship er you cannot leave that job if you don’t like that, you have to complete the contract. And before, if by chance I get my passport I cannot leave the country, because I need my sponsor to sign an exit permit and when I get that exit permit I can, at the immigration when I hand over the exit permit and then only I can leave the country.
So I was very scared and afraid and I started working there and after few months, one day I got a chance, the manager came, he was out of the country and he came back and he asked me he said I was invited to his cabin and he asked me like Deependra, we er we give you work visa to work as a clerk and why are you working in the go down? And I said that in your absence the operational manager told me that you have to work as a labourer to load and unload the heavy things. And er so I was working there and I don’t know what to do and what not to do. And so he asked me a few questions and later he asked me to work in the office as a clerk but this was not that I ended up with a good time. After that, back at, in our labour camps in our accommodation there was no electricity, there was no drinking water and we were to sleep on the rooftop, on the rooftop you er, many of you may know what the temperature in Qatar, it’s more than fifty degrees. And we have to sleep on the roof, er on the rooftop and our accommodation was surrounded by cement factories, and when we wake up in the morning we were like, er we just, we coming out of a beauty salon you know, like doing a lot of makeup you know. And so when we complained about that even, er I was scolded by the manager that you have to work and we, we are trying to fix your problems. There were a lot of problems you know, and when my passport was taken away, and after a few months when I met Andrew Gardner I came to know the word modern-day slave. The day when my passport was taken away, from that day I was a modern slave.
Migrating to Gulf countries or anywhere for a job and all these things, it’s very, it’s expensive. It’s expensive in Nepal you know because it, you have to pay a huge amount of money to the recruiter and to the men, the recruiting agency, to the brokers and you have to pay for your tickets and then you have to travel to and well you can travel to the Gulf countries you know. And so for that I have arrange like 2000 US dollar or 3000 US dollar to pay to the recruiting agencies or to the brokers you know. Because er, they er, for the visa, though the visa and the ticket is free, but they charge you. And er last year, when I was in Qatar, I came to know that erm some of the big companies, the giant companies in Qatar, the HR managers of these companies who are directly or indirectly very close to the company owners, they negotiate with the recruiting agencies in Nepal that have 100 visa, let’s suppose I have 100 visa for labourers. And so how much are you going to pay me per head?
And so when, er so they negotiate and they come to a figure, okay I can pay you $500 per head. And so that is to be paid by later on, in the beginning that is paid by the recruiters, but later on they just charge that with the people.
So like me, it’s very expensive, well when everything is counted it’s very expensive for us to pay that you know. And so I don’t have that much money and so I have to take a loan from a person I know or and it’s very had to get a loan from the bank, like keeping your agreement or your visa as a collateral you know. So when I take a loan with some, er individual person and in that case it’s the interest rate are very huge and, and the salaries in the Gulf countries are very less and so it’s very had to survive. You have to send money every, everyone to home and at the same time you have to send the money to the, they money I have taken with you know, and so I have to pay the interest at the same time and I have to pay to look after my family, I have to take care of myself. And er, the things go, very, you know things are very hard when, when you are not paid every month. So I was getting paid after every 3 months.
Well I knew that I had signed one agreement, work agreement that I can go back home after completing my work contract of two years. But I knew it is not going to be so easy and, and it was what I thought like, after completing two years when I requested my manager ‘okay, I have completed my two years agreement and so I want to go back home to see my family’. Because when I first went to Qatar I left behind my wife, and my newly born baby girl, she was only one month, and my mum and dad. And so my manager told me that uh, ‘we cannot let you go now because if you are gone back home then who is going to look after you work in office. And so you have to arrange someone in your absence who is going to take care of the job you are going right now’. And I said, I knew many of my friends they were desperate to get job in the Gulf countries because in Nepal unemployment is one of the biggest problem and challenges, but I don’t want to put my friends into that problem which I was facing. So I told my manager I don’t know anyone who I can bring here for in my absence, who is going to take care of the charges and work here. But what I can do is, instead of going for 2 or 3 months’ vacation, just allow me two week vacation. And I already mentally made up my mind that if I got a chance to go back home, I am never going to come back in the same hell. And so he said ‘No. you have to arrange someone, otherwise we cannot let you go.’ I said ‘no I cannot arrange anyone because I don’t know anyone who can come and do this job’. And so I talked to my general manager and then he was like, I was able to convince him and then he helped me to, he, he said that tokay well let Deependra go back for two weeks and in one condition, one situation. That they, the company is going to hold my 3 month salary, that they will pay me when I’m back from Nepal and just imagine when I don’t have a single penny in my pocket, I’m just trying to go back home because… me and my family was like going through very tough situation financially, and on top of that I was mentally tortured.
Er I never said, whenever I talked to my family, I never said that I’m living in such a situation because I don’t want, wanted them to be panic, you know. And er even if I say them, they are helpless you know. So they didn’t give me my salary, and then I was lucky that they said that I, we will pay you three months’ salary and your ticket money when you come back after two weeks. And so I, I took help, financial help with my friends. They helped me to get my, buy my tickets. And so I went and then I asked my manager that okay, can you give me my exit permit because without that the immigration is not let me go. And so they said okay we will give your exit permit and I could not sleep the whole night because next day early morning I had to go to the airport and I don’t have my exit permit in my hand. Next day morning I was in the airport, still I was very much confused and traumatized that I don’t have the exit permit and how can I go? And one guy came in the morning he gave me a call and he said ‘where are you?’ I just met him, he gave me my exit permit. I was so happy. And I said oh my God, this is, it’s worth than my 3 months salary that I got this. It’s the key to my home. You know. And so I went back home. When I reached home, the first thing I hugged my mum, I started crying. That I was [crying] I was free from [crying]… sorry.
So after two week my manager gave me a call that Deependra kay let me, we want to book your tickets and tell me the date when you are coming back. I said ‘I’m sorry to say that, and at the same time I’m very glad to tell you that I’m not going to come back’. And my, and my manager asked me ‘okay then, and what about your salary?’ I said ‘oh that is like a bonus from me to you’. And so I don’t want that money. Still I was, I had some you know, debt you know, and that was er, I was, I was lucky that thank you and Monique and you, you guys helped me in 2013 to pay back all the debt. You know, you and Monique and your friend. So yeah, you guys helped me for that and thank you so much. And you guys also helped me also to set up this NGO and work to fight against the slavery and human trafficking and so now the challenges are much more and we have more responsibilities now. Because er when I was in Qatar it was, I was only having the problem but now we have to take care of other people and we have to try our best that no one is going to face such kind of problems you know.
And so, now we have challenges that we are moving very slowly and we, we have to do a lot of things and for that we need financial support. As she told that the, they big NGOs and other things, they get the financial and the funds from all over the world but we are very small, we are nowhere in the world you know. So nobody trust us when we are trying our best to we are trying from our side we are trying our best to make this place a better place to live for everyone. And er we can, we are thinking like how we can stop these problems when government are closing its eyes and they are just sitting blindly and they’re deaf and dumb. You know. So it’s like, we need, now we are planning to set up a workshop where we can provide free of cost trainings to people erm that the expertise they have. If they are interested to do some farming job we can train them free of cost and if someone wants to do a plumbing job we can train them for the plumbing or carpentry or all these things, you know. And I come from a family where my father is a farmer and a village where I was born, it’s very remote and you know and people are not educated because it’s lack of money, poverty, and all these things. And so we are slowly we are trying to find out people or know reasons we can tie up and we can work with them.
This narrative was recorded at Trust Conference, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s flagship event. Trust Conference is committed to finding real solutions to fight slavery, empower women, and advance human rights worldwide. The annual event convenes global corporations, lawyers, government representatives, and pioneers at the forefront of the fight for human rights.