16 Jun 2016
MALAYSIA has the unenviable reputation of recording the highest number of deaths among the Nepali migrants working abroad. Just last year 425 out of an estimated 800,000 Nepali migrant workers in Malaysia died.
This works out to 53.12 deaths per 100,000 workers. In comparison, in Qatar where the working conditions for migrants are even more harsh, a proportionately smaller number of Nepali migrant workers died - 178 out of a total of 550,000 persons or 32.36 deaths per 100,000 workers.
Of the 298 deaths, 70% were attributed to what can only be euphemistically described as heart failure. If the cause of death cannot be pinpointed “heart attack” or “cardiac arrest” is the official cause.
Sudden Unexplained Deaths (SUD) among migrant workers is not something new; it has been documented in countries like Qatar, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia.
Academics and health professionals have advanced various hypotheses to try to explain these deaths - stress, lack of rest, heat dehydration, excessive drinking, unhealthy living conditions - but there does not seem to be consensus on the causes.
Yet the fact remains that hundreds of persons in the prime of their life who leave home healthy and fit are literally falling dead while working in Malaysia.
This should be of grave concern to Malaysians who benefit from their labour and to Nepal which receives millions of Rupees in remittances from these migrant workers. Coining a pseudo medical term such as SUDS (Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome) does nothing to prevent even more deaths.
Malaysia has the responsibility to conduct a much more robust investigation into every single migrant death . Nepal on its part should not be reluctant to insist that Malaysia carry out a full investigation into the causes of the so-called SUD.
Furthermore Nepal should not shy away from investigating deaths that may have been officially attributed to natural causes (like SUDS)in the host country event, even at the risk of sending a message to the public that working abroad can be dangerous.
Migrant workers, though an essential component of Malaysia’s economy, live on the margins of society and are generally invisible, but that does not mean that their lives are cheap and their deaths taken lightly.
While rigorous academic studies into the causes of SUDS are useful in the long run, there is no excuse to ignore the provisions of the ILO conventions which protect labour rights so that these human beings can work with dignity and in safety.
Nepal has a life expectancy of about 67 years and it is tragic when hundreds of young healthy Nepali persons who leave home to work abroad do not attain that age.
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