Supporting 'forgotten migrants'

A woman takes out the money send by her husband from India - Credit: Oxfam/OIM/UNDP

Why is this program unique?

Few highlight or support Nepal's ‘forgotten migrants’, those working seasonally in India. Oxfam's Safer Remittance and Improved Livelihoods Program supports them, starting in Kailali and Surkhet district.

In Nepal 10% of the people are believed to work as migrant labourers in The Gulf, Malaysia and other countries. No one knows exactly how many people work seasonally in India as these workers are not registered. They are among the poorest of the poor and send back as little as NRs 1800 (£ 12.8) per month. They generally don’t enjoy social protection. Since they lack access to the banking system they are at the mercy of middle men and money lenders.

Oxfam aims to change this exploitative situation and create lasting changes in the lives of seasonal migrants and their communities. 

What does it do?

In a novel approach, Oxfam pilots a remittance-based product to rural cooperatives for capital accumulation so that it can provide enterprise loans to women farmers. We signed a contract with Prabhu Bank, a leading remittance service provider company in Nepal, to support cooperatives by including remittance service and strengthening their financial management capacity.

While Oxfam provided financial management training and installment services, Prabhu supported software for remittance service operation and provided training to staff on how to operate the software. 

We support families to invest the money in productive sectors such as enterprise development and education. This boosts the local economy and prevents child migration.

We further ensure better job opportunities by enhancing migrants' skills and knowledge and teach them financial management.

Last but not least we support local authorities and policy makers for the formulation and implementation of suitable policies to benefit seasonal migrants.

How does it improve the lives of those involved?

Oxfam’s sustainable livelihood intervention has helped launch more than 50 rural agricultural and saving and credit cooperatives which serve at least 25,000 families with financial access and enterprise development. Women have started small enterprises such as poultry and goat farming, vegetable production, or opening a shop. Some migrants have returned for good, and are now employed in their own community. 

One cooperative in Kapilvastu has been able to receive NPR four million (£251.140) remitted by 98 villagers who are working in Gulf countries and India in just 6 months time. The money goes to the savings account of their wives who are the members of the cooperative and send money to their children who study elsewhere. The cooperative also provides SMS to recharge mobile phones of the members in the villages.

The Cooperative's latest service, a disaster relief scheme, has been a great boon in a country which ranks as one of the world’s most disaster-prone. Members can get an interest-free loan up to NPR 20,000 (£126) for a year in case of disaster or injury from accident. Members also can get loans worth up to NPR 200,000 (£1260) at an interest rate of 12% for enterprise development.

Can you give one example?

Rupkala Sunar, 50, from Mehelkuna in Surkhet, used to worry a lot about her son Krishna, a seasonal migrant worker in India. Krishna used to carry his wages on him when returning home, and once it got stolen.

After joining an awareness program on ‘Safer Remittance’, Ms Sunar called her son and urged him to send money through the bank. A few weeks later she received it through IME, a Nepali money transfer operator. “Finally I am no longer afraid he will be robbed or killed,” she says.

Krishna dreams about going to The Gulf and earn a lot of money. But before starting the migration process, Ms Sunar wants her son to get properly oriented about labour contracts and plan carefully for a safe and productive migration. She says, “Migration should be well planned to make it fruitful. The investment should fetch a good return.”

Click here to find many other stories. And watch this inspiring video showing a sea of change. 

What are the risks involved?

Local moneylenders and hundi operators may resist the introduction of safe remittance transfer because it means a loss of business. 

How will it be replicated or built upon?

The families and cooperatives involved are taking the program forward. One cooperative is planning to issue check books and ATM cards by connecting itself with wider banking networks and introduce insurance schemes for its members. Oxfam is keen to replicate the program in other districts through a follow up.