Lost and Found Passport:- Story of a Nepali Worker in Qatar.

When a Nepali Worker lost his Passport in Qatar!
While we go through the newspaper, in any of them, we are sure to find notice of passport being lost. While some are advertised intentionally to fulfill their definite purpose, I have heard local agent, manpower companies, and even courier resulting in loss of passport. But this case was different than all, more notably it was different because it happened in the gulf. More ever the way those passports vanished shocked every one of us in the company. We didn’t know how and when but this incident had panicked every one of us.

In early 2016, I immigrated to Qatar to work as a human resources assistant. It was a construction company which used to work in the electrical field. Thus most of the work had to be outdoors. It had four offices among them the major was one for site staff in Al-Sanaiya and other for administration/office staff in Doha. Among 900 crews working there,, More than 70 percent of site staff were Nepalese which comprised mainly of unskilled labor, semi-skilled, reasonable number of drivers, few foremen, and thankfully electrical jointer. But apart from the HR Manager who was from Pakistan, none of the other staff could speak Nepali/Hindi language, which was the way of conversation for most of the site staff. Whenever those employees had any problem, or they had to convey any of their things in the head office, our office boy used to help in translating with his self modified English. We had one Nepalese staff who used to collect field timesheet and submit to HR department but he was not assigned full responsibility as there was certain privacy which was not accessed to him. I joined the company in Feb 2016 and I was supposed to work in the field office.

Human resources were one of the important and powerful departments in Construction Company where they had to look after and solve the issues between site and office staff. I was assigned to work in site office Al-sanaiya which was a point of contact and accommodating place for about 700 people.

After my joining, many unskilled and semi-skilled workers were supposed to join from Nepal. Within a week of arrival in Qatar, we used to finish the process of medical and biometric where any worker first needed to have medical clearance certificate and if they clear it, they used to be sent for biometric which would later proceed to the issuance of residence permit. Qatar government was in the process of implementing a rule where every employer had to return back the passport of the employee, else there would be a huge fine. While our company had started distributing all the passports to all the employee, passports of new employee used to be with the main office until the residence permit was issued. In these process of documentation, an employee would be given passport through van driver just before medical checkup and fingering and they had to return back to van driver while they get back to the van. Rubel, a van driver from Bangladesh used to mediate between main office, site office, an employee with respect to the transfer of passport.

Even though I was recruited to interact with site staff, I was learning payroll in those days and my friend from the Philippines, “Abulkhair” was working in registering new site staff and allotting to the specified department. About 30 new site staff had joined within a week where most of them were unskilled labor. In the midst of all these processes, one morning Rubel told me that a passport of Nepali man Ranjit Kumar (name changed) has been misplaced. Among a group of Nepalese who had gone for medical checkup on that particular day, some passport didn’t reach back to the main office, Till that time we in the site office hadn’t maintained any log book of our receipt and dispatch of the passport and as they were the time where we were sending and receiving lots of passport without any record, we didn’t know at what point that passport actually vanished! An employee said he had given his passport to the driver, the driver said whatever passport which he received gave it to Abulkhair and Abulkhair had similar statements to say, “Whatever passport I received from Rubel, I sent all of them to head office”.

The news of loss passport took no time to spread among 700 residents employee whose accommodation was just beside our field office. As my accommodation was allotted with site staff, every other Nepalese who would see me beyond office hour would ask me updates on this for which we had no clue.

A day later we got his medical report that made us think about a new dimension of the possible reason behind the mystery of lost passport.

Site staff used to go to their work as early as 4 am while we office staff had our office from 8 am. So we asked concerned foreman not to take that employee to work the next day so that he can report to the site office for further investigation. Next day when we came to office, he was not there and he had already left for his work. We instantly made arrangements to bring him back to the field office.

Abulkhair requested me to help him with some translations where he was asked how many relatives and friends does he have in Qatar, whom did he communicated and met since he arrived in Qatar and many other questions. He was a man of about 35-40 years old who couldn’t speak proper Nepali. He had worked before in Saudi Arabia and came to Qatar after a few years of staying at the home. According to him, he had talked on the phone a few times with one of his village friends. As employees were granted leave during the day of their visit to medical, he had met his friend in the local market after his medical was completed. Though he was changing a few words occasionally, it was highly unlikely that he had lied.

He was sent back to his room. He was asked not to go to work until further notice. Only after his departure, Rubel told me that he is HIV infected. On inquiring further to Jeffrey, HR Executive working in the head office, he confirmed the news and he also told me that he has to be immediately deported back to Nepal. Jeffrey who was in the charge of all contacts with local manpower agencies asked me if Nepalese worker were not obliged to have a pre-medical checkup. I replied, “ everyone is supposed to have their premedical checkup but this report can be easily manipulated”.

I say it this with no hesitation that Pre-medical checkup can easily be manipulated. Barring few countries where medical checkup should be done by proper clinic assigned by local embassies in Nepal, for countries like Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and few others, medical checkup could have been done in any of the clinics and all one need's a few extra money to manipulate the report. In Nepal, Pre-medical checkup and medical checkup is one of the initial ways to cheat workers.

There are lots of money and game of commission involved in this medical large where aspirant employee are the one to be most suffered. Normal medical checkup which would cost about 4500 for immigrants, 2000 were returned back to local agents/ manpower agencies as commission. In addition to this, in the name of re-check up, many of the time they are asked to go through some certain check up again to boost their income.

This makes me recall my own experience in Nepal before departure when I went through during my pre-medical checkup in Nepal. As I knew the actual cost would be not more than 2500, I said to the local agent that I will not pay the full amount. With big eyes in my final fees (Although Nepal government had already enforced zero processing fees for all gulf nation workers, no any local agencies were following this law and he was targeting anything more than one lakh fifty thousand to take from me because of my good salary and position offered), he agreed and talked with medical check-up clinic about the same. I paid only 2500 while all others in the queue were paying the full amount. After a few days, When asked about my report, I was told that I have a small mark in my chest which can disqualify me. I was also said that if I take some medicine worth NPR 5000, it will help me clear my mark. Medical checkup clinic told me that this medicine will help to erase those marks. To verify the same, I got a chest x-ray for me from another public clinic which was completely clear. During the report, the local doctor said that at some x-ray there might come with such mark which is not any fatal case and if I have not been infected by tuberculosis before, I needn’t be afraid. So, I rejected the suggestion of medical checkup clinic of having additional medicine and said I will travel in my own risk. As a local agent had a big eye in my final fees, he didn’t charge me additional money.

While thinking in this case of a man infected with HIV, I thought there might be two insight. First is that employee himself knows that he is HIV infected and because he has worked in the gulf before, he might have contacted his relatives so as he wants to flee from the company and work illegally. But with the fact that he was still available after the medical checkup, his narrating of everything about his friends in Qatar made this perception unlikely. He was not so smart or literate worker to think and work with such risk. Moreover, through his conversation, it seems highly unlikely that he is aware of his HIV infection.

Yes, as per him he had a proper medical checkup in Nepal and there was no fault in those reports. So the second insight to this case is that he is unknown about his infection and local agent doing all these to grab a big commission fee. If a candidate returns back, even medical check-up clinic can excuse themselves from taking blame saying HIV infection might be in “window stage”. Even if they have to return in any of the cases, it wouldn’t be more than ten thousand rupees which were the legal proof of payment to manpower. In this way, a local agent can swallow all remaining amount.

After having an additional talk with Ranjit Kumar he told me that he had paid a heavy fee of one lakh and ten thousand to a local agent. There were so many other formalities where he was interrogated which I was merely translating. We didn’t say him anything about his infection with HIV but proceed towards issuing of temporary travel documents. As a consolation, He was told that he needs to go back to Nepal to remake his passport and he can come with a new passport. At the same time, he was in our observation to make sure he wouldn’t escape away from the company.

With few hurdles in the making of the police report and travel document from Nepal embassy, he was deported back to Nepal within a week. Before his departure, camp supervisor Akram told him that he is infected with HIV and he wouldn’t be able to come back.

As I was a new employee in that office, I didn’t have many records of his information. I didn’t have any communication with him on phone and I am unaware if he got any of his money refunded from a local agent. Ranjit might have his own dream of sustaining family but he not only went on to lose a big amount in this process, but he might have also lost his confidence in living his life. I hope he is safe wherever he is. The way his passport vanished was nothing less than a black mystery for all of us in office.

For me, as I had not taken any of the responsibilities of handling passport till that day, nobody could point the finger to me in that loss of passport. But after a month of his departure, a young Nepalese guy Ram Bahadur (name changed) came to me saying his fingering was not done yet. His explanation was his passport was also lost along with Ranjit Kumar thus adding another confusion to this mystery of lost passport.

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