Report: 386 Nepalese migrant workers died here in 2016

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PETALING JAYA: With 386 Nepalese workers meeting their demise in Malaysia last year, the trend of one worker dying per day continues to raise much concern, The Kathmandu Post reported yesterday.

Human rights and migrant rights groups as well as some doctors believe there is enough reason to doubt the cause of death as employers and agents try to avoid insurance claims and other obligations.

A researcher with Amnesty International said with both Malaysian and Nepalese authorities having “failed to investigate the high number of Nepali migrant worker deaths”, the actual cause of death in most cases might never be known.

“Proper autopsies have not been carried out, and their deaths have been evasively attributed to heart failure or ‘sudden unexpected death syndrome’.

“More research is needed to look into the poor work and safety conditions that may have contributed to these deaths, and the overlooked factors of stress, overwork, and dehydration,” Amnesty International refugee and migrant rights researcher Angela Sherwood told the Post.

Based on official statistics, the number of migrant workers from Nepal who died in Malaysia in the previous two years were 425 in 2015 and 361 in 2014.

It was reported last June that the Nepalese embassy in Malaysia had recorded 2,945 deaths of its citizens working here, between 2005 and 2015. That is an average of almost 300 deaths per year.

In the report by The Star, Nepal’s ambassador said most deaths of Nepalese workers in Malaysia were due to cardiac arrest.

Meanwhile, though the number of fatalities last year was down from the 425 recorded in 2015, the daily highlighted that the number of migrant workers from Nepal in Malaysia had greatly reduced over the past two years.

This was especially so, as there had been a sharp fall in the number of new migrants coming to Malaysia since the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

“Data shows reverse migration trend of Nepalis working in Malaysia since 2015. More than 250,000 Nepalis are believed to have returned from Malaysia since the earthquake, while hardly 80,000 fresh workers took up new jobs in the Southeast Asian country,” the Post reported, adding that as a result, the relevant authorities had expected a bigger drop in the number of deaths.

The number of fatalities is also higher in Malaysia then the next highest, which is Qatar, a country that is in the spotlight for its inhumane treatment of Nepali workers.

Malaysia’s immigration records show that there were 411,364 migrant workers from Nepal working in Malaysia until November last year, slightly higher than the number of Nepalis working in Qatar (380,000), according to the Nepal embassy in Doha.

However, 184 Nepalese workers died in Qatar against the 386 in Malaysia last year.

Medically fit

With 20% of the deaths in Malaysia attributed to chronic conditions of tuberculosis, gastritis, pneumonia, renal failure and myocardial ischemia, there are also doubts generated as to how these workers were employed in the first place.

By law, employers in Malaysia can only hire migrants who are medically fit. Each worker coming to Malaysia must first have undergone a medical test in Nepal. After arriving in Malaysia, they are sent for another check-up. Only then, can they be employed.

According to the Post, the health check-up process is so sophisticated that one in 10 workers are sent back to Nepal on medical grounds even before they are employed.

Living and working conditions

A strong link in most of the deaths can also be attributed to factors related to the job and accommodation provided to these workers.

“Experts say that a majority of deaths have direct links to squalid living and working conditions, stress, work pressure and family pressure and lack of rest,” the Post reported.

Furthermore, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have addressed the issue of workplace safety of migrants being a big challenge in Malaysia.