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New App Provides Nepali Migrant Workers with Safe Migration Information

May 25, 2016

By Benjamin Lokshin, Tirza Theunissen

At Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport, young men and women snake through the international terminal, waiting their turn to begin what could be the world’s longest commute to work. More than 1,500 people depart the country in this way every day, mostly bound for temporary jobs as construction workers, domestic servants, or low- and medium-skill laborers in the Gulf countries and East Asia.

Migrant laborers prepare to depart Nepal at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

Migrant laborers prepare to depart Nepal at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

The flow of labour migrants has increased rapidly in recent years. Today, nearly 3.5 million Nepalis – out of a total population of just 27 million – are working and living abroad. These migrants face tremendous challenges throughout their journeys, as they struggle to understand the complex process of migration and its many pitfalls, and to survive the often dangerous conditions they face while working so far from home.

Within Nepal and abroad, a number of circumstances limit migrants’ access to reliable information surrounding the migration process. While government labour migration agencies and service providers are concentrated in Kathmandu, migrants themselves come from cities and villages all over the country. Women in particular face challenges, as social and cultural norms often limit their mobility within Nepal, preventing them from visiting migration authorities and service providers in the capital. Later, after arriving in destination countries, Nepali migrants are isolated both physically and psychologically – cut adrift in a foreign land where they do not speak the language, are not familiar with the work rules and social norms, and where it is difficult to seek recourse when things go wrong. The complexity of the migration process drives many potential workers to seek out unauthorized brokers and manpower agencies, which provide limited information, if at all, about the labour and living conditions of their prospective jobs in destination countries. Furthermore, many recruitment agencies take advantage of migrants through extortionate payment practices or even outright deception.

To address this information gap, The Asia Foundation, together with the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) and Young Innovations, a Nepali software firm, developed Shuvayatra (Safe Journey), a safe migration tool for migrants. The beta version of the app launched on May 19 by the Minister of Labor and Employment, Deepak Bohara, alongside representatives from The Asia Foundation, NRNA, migrant workers, government officials, international development agencies, and civil society organizations.

The new Shuvayatra app features information about labor rights, work permits, the application process, local dos and don’ts, and working conditions abroad.

The new Shuvayatra app features information about labor rights, work permits, the application process, local dos and don’ts, and working conditions abroad.

Nepal’s mobile penetration rate in terms of number of SIM connections has already passed 100 percent, and for many of the younger Nepalis who make up the majority of the migrant worker population, smartphones are their primary link to everything from radio to social media. As a result, mobile devices can enable current and potential migrant workers to access reliable information on the migration process and direct them to available services in Nepal and in destination countries.

The app features information about labor rights, work permits, the application process, local dos and don’ts, and working conditions abroad. It also provides country-specific guidance for the most common destination countries: Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The team designed and tested each feature of the application with prospective and returnee male and female labor migrants in Nepal, and all of the content was developed in collaboration with local migration experts and rights advocates.

In particular, we made sure that the specific priorities of women migrant workers were closely integrated in the development process to ensure that the app addresses their needs. According to Durga Ghimire, a returnee migrant involved in the development of the app:

“When I went abroad as a caregiver, I was clueless about the processes involved, documents required, and the country I was going to except for what was told by my agent. This not only doubled my expenses but also made me vulnerable to a culture that was unknown to me. I had a hard time adjusting and missed my home immensely. If only I knew about all these things prior to going, my experiences would have been different. My friends and family want to go abroad, but I don’t want them to have similar experiences as mine. I want them to be more careful and aware about the things that they ought to know before and after going. I am relieved that Shuvayatra App is here to serve this purpose and help people make informed decisions to migrate safely.”

One of the central precepts underlying the Shuvayatra app is that content should be easily understandable and relevant in users’ daily lives. Existing materials covering migration issues often tend to be academic, legalistic, or simply not available in Nepali language. In contrast, the Shuvayatra app focuses on more accessible and easy-to-understand information, including short audio interviews with experienced migrants and topic experts, which can be understood even by users with poor literacy skills. The app itself is also structured in a way that allows for constant updating, ensuring that users can view a dynamic feed of high-quality information and support, no matter where they travel for work. And since content can be individually downloaded and stored on a phone, users can continue viewing saved content even when they do not have access to the internet.

The launch of the beta version is the beginning of a multipart process in which new features will be added to the app over the coming months to develop Shuvayatra into a platform for the global community of Nepali migrant workers to share content, ideas, and answers to critical questions that arise from the migration process. The consortium of partners backing the app will conduct an intensive promotion campaign to promote the app among prospective and current migrant workers.

To download the app, visit www.shuvayatra.org

Benjamin Lokshin is a program associate for The Asia Foundation’s Digital Media and Technology Program and Tirza Theunissen is a program development advisor for The Asia Foundation in Nepal. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funder.

Related locations: Nepal
Related programs: Economic Opportunity, Technology & Development
Related topics: Civic Tech, Human Rights

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