Migrant workers are the forgotten team of the Qatar World Cup

Migrant workers are the forgotten team of the Qatar World Cup

On Thursday morning last month, multiple flights took off for Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, the largest employer of Nepalis outside the Gulf countries. Departing passengers are funneled into one of three lines: one for Nepalis, another for foreigners, and another marked by a board that reads, “Nepali Migrant Workers.” That lane was by far the busiest.

Bigan Rai, 32, said she worked in television commercials and as a model in her younger days before jobs dried up. Standing in line at the airport, she was leaving her country, her family and her 10-month-old son. Amid the lack of opportunities and the endemic corruption of a system that takes advantage of the powerless, he says, he has no better options.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I feel very unlucky to be a Nepali.”

In Kathmandu, billboards, walls and buses are plastered with advertisements offering visa and employment services from as far away as Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea. But the sirens of foreign jobs are loudest in the countryside.

In many ways then, there is nothing remarkable about Sonigama village, a collection of mostly mud and wooden buildings surrounded by rows of sugarcane and paddy fields. Like almost every town and village in Nepal, Sonigama is a place where men who want to work tend to move.

At the edge of the village, Tetri Sharma sits on a tuft of grass beside a pond, waiting to go to the next village. Sharma said his two sons are in the Gulf, one in Qatar and another in a place he cannot remember. After a few minutes a man named Ram Prasad Mandal came near the water. Dressed in a sarong and a stained white T-shirt, he is leading a buffalo to water with a wooden stick. Mandal, 55, said he also has a son in the area. His elder son Upendra is working as a cleaner in Dubai.

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